China's labor unrest worse than suspected

Independent researchers have published findings about China's labor unrest, saying that it is much more widespread than it ever has been before, and that the state is cracking down on independent union organizers who seek to ameliorate the dismal wages and working conditions, with torture and intimidation:

[A] growing number of economists say the unrest proves that it is not the exchange rate but years of sweatshop wages and income inequality in China that have distorted global competition and stifled domestic demand. The influential Far Eastern Economic Review headlined its latest issue “The coming crack-up of the China Model”.

Yasheng Huang, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said corruption and a deeply flawed model of economic reform had led to a collapse in personal income growth and a wealth gap that could leave China looking like a Latin American economy.

Richard Duncan, a partner at Blackhorse Asset Management in Singapore, has argued that the only way to create consumers is to raise wages to a legal minimum of $5 (£3.50) a day across Asia – a “trickle up” theory.

The instability may peak when millions of migrant workers flood back from celebrating the Chinese new year to find they no longer have jobs. That spells political trouble and there are already signs that the government’s $585 billion stimulus package will not be enough to achieve its goal of 8% growth this year...

A legal advocate for migrant workers, Xiao Qingshan, told a tale of violent intimidation by the state in collusion with unscrupulous businessmen.

On January 9, Xiao said, 14 security officers from the local labour bureau broke into his office, confiscated 600 legal case files, 160 law books, his computer, his photocopier, his television set and 100,000 yuan in cash.


“That evening I was ambushed near the office by five strangers who forced a black bag over my head and then threw me into a shallow polluted canal,” he said. His landlord has since given him notice to quit his rented home.

Xiao said he was defying bribery and threats to speak to the foreign media because he wants international businesses to know what is really happening in “the workshop of the world”.

Violent unrest rocks China as crisis hits

(Thanks, Marilyn!)