Against the Law: Labor Protests in China's Rustbelt and Sunbelt

Against the Law: Labor Protests in China's Rustbelt and Sunbelt

Against the Law: Labor Protests in China's Rustbelt and Sunbelt

Against the Law: Labor Protests in China's Rustbelt and Sunbelt

Synopsis

This study opens a critical perspective on the slow death of socialism and the rebirth of capitalism in the world's most dynamic and populous country. Based on remarkable fieldwork and extensive interviews in Chinese textile, apparel, machinery, and household appliance factories, Against the Law finds a rising tide of labor unrest mostly hidden from the world's attention. Providing a broad political and economic analysis of this labor struggle together with fine-grained ethnographic detail, the book portrays the Chinese working class as workers' stories unfold in bankrupt state factories and global sweatshops, in crowded dormitories and remote villages, at street protests as well as in quiet disenchantment with the corrupt officialdom and the fledgling legal system.

Excerpt

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, China is being hailed as the “workshop of the world,” poised to assume a pivotal role in the global political economy. Chinese labor conditions have also generated intense interest among American and international policymakers, labor movement activists, and development agencies. The Chinese worker is often imagined as a diabolically exploited, haplessly diligent, mindlessly docile, nondescript, and disposable human being, easily replaced from the seemingly endless supply of identical youthful workers in the world’s most populous country. In the United States and also in Mexico, India, and elsewhere in the developing world, the Chinese worker is charged with responsibility for job loss, capital flight, and a plunge in global labor standards. There is a glaring incongruity between, on the one hand, the general recognition of the great significance of Chinese labor conditions and their impact on the world economy and, on the other hand, the public’s limited understanding of the complexity of the Chinese experience and, more fundamentally, the humanity of the Chinese worker.

I hope that this book will help to close this cognitive gap through a comparative analysis of the lives and struggles of the two segments of the Chinese workforce that have borne the brunt of market reform and globalization: laid-off and retired workers in China’s industrial rustbelt and young migrant workers in global factories in the export-oriented sunbelt. To capture the sharply uneven process of change in this immense and heterogeneous country and to maximize the analytic leverage of the diverse local political economies within its borders, I have selected two provinces that can represent, in oversimplified terms, the death of socialism and the birth of capitalism in one country. It is also in these two provinces—Liaoning in the northeast and Guangdong in the south—that the two respective groups of . . .

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