Article cites China’s hukou policy as source of its labor unrest

Left-leaning journal In these Times has a good article on labor unrest in China, and how the country’s antiquated hukou system is at the heart of the problem.

The key to China’s distinctive suppression of workers, however, is the hukou, or household registration, system. Workers with a rural hukou, the vast majority of new factory workers, can’t compete for better jobs or receive the housing, health and pension benefits reserved for urban residents. They must obtain a bewildering variety of expensive permits to get urban factory jobs. Often these rural migrants—typically young and disproportionately female—pay for jobs. If they leave, they risk losing their “deposits” and permit fees, which together can amount to many months of wages. They effectively become bonded labor, powerless in the face of demands by their employers and confined to the factory and grim dormitories.

This is a topic of particular importance to me, as a good friend of mine from the countryside and now living in Beijing is trapped in the hukou monstrosity of bureaucracy and dead-ends. Those with the urban hukous get all the privileges, while those from rural areas face unbelievable disadvantages.

This is just one part of a rather detailed article on Chinese labor and a petition going around that claims, “China’s unremitting repression of workers’ rights takes wages, health and dignity not only from China’s workers. It also displaces and impoverishes workers—and their families and communities—in the United States and throughout the world.” If labor in China is of interest, you’ll want to read it.

One paragraph of many that caught my eye:

As foreign investment flows into the country and peasants into the cities, the “supply shock” of Chinese manufactured goods is likely to be devastating—especially when quotas for exports of apparel and textiles to the United States and Europe end in December. The United States may lose 650,000 apparel and textile jobs, including about 1,300 textile plants, over the next two and a half years. But according to U.N. Development Program data, dirt-poor Bangladesh and Indonesia will lose up to 1 million apparel and textile jobs to China, and Central America and the Caribbean could lose half that.

Interesting dilemma, and I’m clueless as to solutions. I’ve defended outsourcing in the past, but I read the above paragraph and have to wonder if this is really what globalization is supposed to be about.

The Discussion: One Comment

China: Labour rights, the AFL-CIO petition, and the hukou system

Thanks to Richard at the Peking Duck for posting on this and thus drawing my attention to the article below. “More than 1,200 workers from the Tieshu Textile Factory in the Chinese city of Suizhou peacefully blocked railroad tracks this…

April 10, 2004 @ 8:07 am | Comment

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