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Remaking the World of Chinese Labour: A 30-Year Retrospective

Authors


  • Eli Friedman and Ching Kwan Lee are at the University of California.

Abstract

Over the past 30 years, labour relations, and, indeed, the entirety of working-class politics in China, have been dramatically altered by economic reforms. In this review, we focus on the two key processes of commodification and casualization and their implications for workers. On the one hand, these processes have resulted in the destruction of the old social contract and the emergence of marketized employment relations. This has implied a loss of the job security and generous benefits enjoyed by workers in the planned economy. On the other hand, commodification and casualization have produced significant but localized resistance from the Chinese working class. Up until now, the activities of labour non-governmental organizations and of the official trade unions have contributed to the state's effort of individualizing and institutionalizing labour conflict resolution through labour law and arbitration mechanisms. Finally, we provide a brief discussion of the impact of 2008's Labour Contract Law and the outbreak of the economic crisis on labour relations. We conclude that the continual imbalance of power at the point of production presents a real dilemma for the Chinese state as it attempts to shift away from a model of development dependent on exports.

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