The current restructuring in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is of phenomenal importance to the global economy. In particular it has added millions of workers to the international workforce.
Chinese workers often work in conditions of super-exploitation. The impact of the current global crisis on Chinese manufacturing has put further pressure on their wages. This has international consequences: workers outside China either become unemployed, because production is moved to the PRC, or they are pressured into accepting lower wages and worse working conditions through the threat of production transfer to China.
I have been awarded a grant of £275k by the Economic and Social Research Council for a project on ‘Globalisation, national transformation and workers’ rights: an analysis of Chinese labour within the global economy’ (RES-062-23-2777). The project will be located in the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice and includes a three-year fellowship for Dr. Chun-Yi Lee, who will be responsible for the empirical research in China. The project will start in October 2011 and run for three years.
Dr. Lee and I will assess the role of Chinese labour within the structural changes outlined above at the production, national and international level. In particular, we will investigate to what extent civil society organisations of labour, trade unions and NGOs, have been able to protect the interests of Chinese workers within the Chinese form of state as well as through co-operation with international labour organisations.
Methodologically, this project will draw on existing data such as foreign direct investment flows and GDP levels, semi-structured interviews with workers and managers, representatives of the official Chinese trade union, informal labour organisations, the Chinese government, the International Trade Union Confederation and the International Labour Organization. Official documents of these organizations will also be consulted.
As a result of uneven development in the global economy, workers in different countries have contrasting positions within the transnational production process. While Chinese workers may be prepared to accept low wages in return for getting a job, workers elsewhere may become unemployed. This project will examine to what extent it is possible to establish relations of transnational solidarity between different labour movements despite this unevenness.