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Editor: Joel Andreas
Over the past seven decades—since the 1949 Revolution—every aspect of Chinese society has been profoundly transformed multiple times. No sector has experienced more tumultuous twists and turns than industry. The eight articles contained in this volume examine these twists and turns, focusing on those aspects of industrial relations that involve contention and power, that is, factory politics. They were selected among articles that have appeared in the Chinese journal Open Times (开放时代) over the past decade. Because Open Times has a well-earned reputation for publishing diverse viewpoints, it has been able to attract some of the very best scholarship in China.

Abstract

This article analyzes the “internal labor subcontracting” production model within a state-owned enterprise through the lens of labor process theory. Analyzing the emergence and development of internal labor subcontracting shows how the rise of transnational labor processes under economic globalization and market transition shaped the practical logic behind the reform of China’s state-owned enterprises and helped state-owned enterprises integrate themselves into a local practice of neoliberal globalization characterized by “flexible accumulation.” This paper argues that the change in production models was spurred by two logics: (1) the reorganization of production under transnational labor processes and (2) labor substitution under shop floor politics. If Western enterprises shifted from Fordism-Keynesianism to flexible accumulation by “spatial adjustment” strategies, then Chinese state-owned enterprises integrated themselves into a global production system dependent upon flexible accumulation by utilizing an informal labor market to directly transform internal production models.

In: Factory Politics in the People's Republic of China

Abstract

Since the 1990s, Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, has faced growing public criticism for using sweatshop labor in its supply chains. In 1992, when corporate social responsibility practices centering on adoption and implementation of codes of conduct regarding labor standards were gaining steam, Walmart also adopted its own codes of conduct, “Standards for Suppliers,” requiring its overseas suppliers to comply with certain minimum labor standards. Based on empirical studies at three of Walmart’s toy supplier factories located in Shenzhen, this paper examines the dynamics and effectiveness of Walmart codes on workplace labor standards.

In: Factory Politics in the People's Republic of China

Abstract

The 2012 direct union elections in Guangdong Province have received widespread attention from the public and are widely regarded as the direction of reform for China’s unions. Behind this reform lies not only bottom-up pressure of the workers’ movement, but also top-down demands for social development, as well as the outcomes of Guangdong’s industrial transformation policies. Although Guangdong’s model of direct union elections has been successful in some enterprises, especially with regard to collective bargaining and the work style of union officials, the further adoption of direct union elections has continued to encounter many obstacles, including the power of capital, the level of maturity of the workers themselves, the local government’s way of thinking, and the attitudes of higher level unions. These obstacles have impeded the further development and improvement of direct union elections.

In: Factory Politics in the People's Republic of China

Abstract

Soon after the founding of the People’s Republic, workers’ social status and standard of living saw dramatic increases. Ordinary people displayed passion and enthusiasm for their work. However, the state began to ignore the needs of workers as it slowly became committed to plans for modernization and sought to impose control of production through pressure from individual officials, political campaigns, and production targets. In order to protect their own interests, direct producers responded to this pressure in many different ways. In this historical process, labor enthusiasm was slowly replaced by passivity, negativity, cheating, and fraudulent practices. High modernist planners often believed their vision for society was more carefully considered and farsighted than the facts would justify, but their plans often ended up harming the intended beneficiaries and impeding development.

In: Factory Politics in the People's Republic of China
In: Factory Politics in the People's Republic of China

Abstract

In The Politics of Production, Michael Burawoy emphasized how different production regimes shape the political and ideological aspects of workers’ resistance. However, the present study’s analysis of collective struggles by the new generation of Chinese migrant workers shows that, aside from the regulatory role of production regimes themselves, the unique life experiences and social traits of China’s new workers influence how different production regimes are experienced. Moreover, through the combination of different production regimes, workers’ experiences and traits also engender unique forms of life, bonds of solidarity, and methods of mobilization. This article emphasizes the political significance of life. The social relations and experiences forged through production and life give rise to three patterns of struggle among China’s new workers: (a) offensive struggles to advance their interests based on relationships among coworkers and classmates, (b) atomized struggles to both defend and advance their interests, and (c) riots. Each pattern of struggle demarcates a unique challenge in China, “the world’s workshop.”

In: Factory Politics in the People's Republic of China

Abstract

The characteristics of the staff and workers congress (SWC) system at Factory A have differed significantly across different historical periods. This article examines those changes in terms of the organization and structure of the congress, the composition of representatives and how they exercise their powers, the topics addressed by the congress, and also workers’ evaluations of its work. It then attempts to explain these changes with a New Institutionalism approach, proposing that tensions between the logic of legitimacy and the logic of efficiency have brought about changes in how the SWC system has been implemented.

In: Factory Politics in the People's Republic of China

Abstract

Based on case studies of four industrial state-owned enterprises (SOEs), this paper proposes a simple control model of industrial relations in post-reform SOEs. Under this model, the focus of SOE targets has shifted toward efficiency, while labor relations within SOEs have become hierarchical, with managers enjoying political and economic protection from the state and wielding absolute control. Technicians enjoy certain market advantages but compete as isolated individuals. Skilled workers enjoy the traditional protections of the SOE, but are aging and will not be replaced. The use of large quantities of informal labor has taken the hierarchical application of labor to an extreme. The simple control model and informal labor markets are reliant on each other, undercut the role of the union, and divide permanent and temporary workers across different labor markets.

In: Factory Politics in the People's Republic of China

Abstract

This paper is based on field research on spatial interactions between Uyghur and Han workers at the Kashgar Cotton Mill [in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region]. According to the research, the form taken by working and living spaces has had a role in shaping systemic change and transitional practices. The mill has shifted from being state owned to being privately owned and managed and the formation and disruption of the cultural space in which Uyghur and Han workers interact in work and life are inextricably linked to this transition. In particular, the unbalanced recruitment of Uyghur and Han workers has disrupted an important mentoring relationship between members of the two ethnic groups. In short, an ethnic spatial perspective allows us to better understand the economic and social changes in the transitional period, especially with regard to ethnic and labor relations.

In: Factory Politics in the People's Republic of China