Sunday, June 20, 2010


The communist/capitalist rulers of the Peoples' Republic of China have recently been challenged by a grass roots movement of striking workers at Honda manufacturing plants. Fearful of the spread of this workers' rebellion, outside of the official Communist Party unions, the government has actually conceded to the workers' demands. the reason for this is detailed below. The workers have managed to go beyond the official trade unions and coordinate their actions via the internet. It's an interesting though. Personally I have always favoured established radical anarchosyndicalist unions whatever their disadvantages. In some situations, however, where it is impossible to maintain alternative unions it is still possible given modern technology for a mass movement to grow, as it has in China. Here's the story from the New York Times.

In China, Labor Movement Enabled by Technology

The 1,700 workers who went on strike at the Honda Lock auto parts factory here are mostly poor migrants with middle-school educations.

But they are surprisingly tech-savvy.

Hours into a strike that began last week, they started posting detailed accounts of the walkout online, spreading word not only among themselves but also to restive and striking workers elsewhere in China.

They fired off cellphone text messages urging colleagues to resist pressure from factory bosses. They logged onto a state-controlled Web site — — that is emerging as a digital hub of the Chinese labor movement. And armed with desktop computers, they uploaded video of Honda Lock’s security guards roughing up employees.

“We videotaped the strike with our cellphones and decided to post the video online to let other people know how unfairly we were treated,” said a 20-year-old Honda employee who asked not to be named because of the threat of retaliation.

The disgruntled workers in this southern Chinese city took their cues from earlier groups of Web-literate strikers at other Honda factories, who in mid-May set up Internet forums and made online bulletin board postings about their own battle with the Japanese automaker over wages and working conditions.

But they have also tapped into a broader communications web enabling the working class throughout China to share grievances and strategies. Some strike leaders now say they spend much of their time perusing the Web for material on China’s labor laws.

Wielding cellphones and keyboards, members of China’s emerging labor movement so far seem to be outwitting official censors in an effort to build broad support for what they say is a war against greedy corporations and their local government allies.

And it might not be possible if the Chinese government had not made a concerted effort in the last decade to shrink the country’s digital divide by lowering the cost of mobile phone and Internet service in this country — a modernization campaign that has given China the world’s biggest Internet population (400 million) and allowed even the poorest of the poor to log onto the Internet and air their labor grievances.

“This is something people haven’t paid attention to — migrant workers can organize using these technologies,” said Guobin Yang, a professor at Barnard College and author of “The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online.”

“Usually we think of this kind of thing being used by middle-class youths and intellectuals,” Professor Yang said.

The Web and digital devices, analysts say, have become vehicles of social change in much the way the typewriter and mimeograph machine were the preferred media during the pro-democracy protests in Beijing in 1989 — before the government put down that movement in the June 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown that left hundreds dead.

A looming question now, in fact, is whether and when the government might seek to quash the current worker uprisings if they become too big a threat to the established social order. Already, the government has started cracking down on strike-related Web sites and deleted many of the blog posts about the strikes.

The instant messaging service QQ, which is accessible via the Web or mobile phone — and was perhaps the early favorite network of strike leaders because of its popularity among young people — was soon infiltrated by Honda Lock officials and government security agents, forcing some to move to alternative sites, strike leaders say.

“We’re not using QQ any more,” said one strike leader here. “There were company spies that got in. So now we’re using cellphones more.”

Analysts say they were smart to change.

QQ offers no protection from eavesdropping by the Chinese authorities, and it is just as well they stopped using it,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, a China specialist and fellow at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University. “QQ is not secure. You might as well be sharing your information with the Public Security Bureau.”

But the activists say they are getting around some of those restraints by shifting to different platforms (including a Skype-like network called YY Voice) and using code words to discuss protest gatherings.

For years, labor activists have been exposing the harsh working conditions in Chinese factories by smuggling cellphone images and video out of coastal factories and posting documents showing labor law violations on the Web. New and notable is that these formerly covert activities have become open and pervasive.

Last month, for example, when a string of puzzling suicides was reported at Foxconn Technology near here, one of the world’s largest electronics manufacturers, there were online video postings reportedly showing security guards manhandling workers.

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