30,000 Chinese Factory Workers Strike Against Maker of Nike Sneakers

30,000 Chinese Factory Workers Strike Against Maker of Nike Sneakers

JESSICA DESVARIEUX: Welcome to The Real News
Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. Thirty thousand Chinese workers have been
on strike for two weeks against the world’s largest maker of athletic shoes. They make
sneakers for companies that you know of, of course, like Nike and Adidas. And workers
have shut down production. And the company Yue Yuen’s stock price has sharply declined.
The workers allege the company has failed to adequately fund social security pensions
and contribute to housing funds. Joining us to discuss this strike are our
two guests. Michelle Chen is a contributor to The Nation
and In These Times and an editor at CultureStrike. And we have–joining us from China is Xiaoming
Chai. He works at Peking University, and he’s an instructor for the Further Education Project. Thank you both for joining us. MICHELLE CHEN: Thanks. XIAOMING CHAI: Thank you. DESVARIEUX: So, Michelle, let’s start off
with you. The Yue Yuen strike is estimated to be one of the largest in decades. Can you
tell us why so many workers are striking? And what are their demands? CHEN: The workers basically just want the
company to make good on their obligations under Chinese law to pay social insurance
costs. Many of these workers say they are owed a lot of overdue payments on the part
of the company for basic things like pension funds, unemployment insurance, basic social
welfare protections that are laid out in Chinese law under the newly reformed labor laws. You know, this is certainly not the only incidence
in which a company has shirked on its obligations to pay. These violations of the social insurance
[incompr.] payment laws are routine throughout the workforce. But these workers feel like
it has reached such a crisis point that they are willing to go into the streets. Another big issue is that there are, in addition,
contributions to the housing fund that they’re owed. And with the rising cost of living,
many of these workers are suffering from these really burdensome housing costs that they
cannot keep up with, and their wages, unfortunately, are not rising as much as they should be to
keep up with the cost of living. So now we have tens of thousands of workers–I
believe at a peak it was over 30,000 workers–marching in the streets, you know, undertaking a work
stoppage, protesting. And, also, many of them are just not going to work. They were [incompr.]
swiping their cards and just, you know, not working. So they’re resisting in a variety
of ways. And the Western companies have simply been
caught off guard. And it’s been–it’s made some waves, because it’s very unusual for,
you know, a country with supposedly no independent, you know, labor unions, where labor activity
is really suppressed, for workers to be taking action like this. DESVARIEUX: Yeah. You mentioned it’s unusual.
But the Chinese civil think tank Institute of Contemporary Observations says that there
have been 30 strikes involving at least 50 workers since March. So it seems like there’s
an uptick. And I want to turn to Xiaoming and get your point of view. Are we actually
seeing an uptick here? CHAI: (Sorry.) And, actually, I think that
this is the first time for years we got this kind of–so a huge a scale of strike, even
in Canton. So there was–so there have been often strikes from different factories. It’s
even from some big brand names, like the IBM and Nokia. And also, until now, the strike last over
two weeks, from 5 April to now. I think it’s quite dramatic. And, also, workers are quite
confident with their activities. DESVARIEUX: Can you tell us–I want to get
a sense of do workers usually actually win in the end. What’s the likelihood that we’ll
actually see the company agree to these terms? CHAI: Okay. I would say now it’s still what
they call in English: it’s a seesaw war. And we heard quite many things, like that dozens
of workers have been interrogated, questioned by the local authority, even arrested. Some
activists, like Zhang Zhiru, they have been detained under house arrest by the local policemen
or the local government. But workers still keep the high confidence,
and because two hours ago I was into some–it’s kind of the instant social message group with
workers, one of the largest with the workers, and 400 or 300 workers, they are discussing
their planning, their feedback about today and several days’ feeling. So workers, still
they’re planning to last the strike until the May Day. They say if they can’t get their
demands, they will not give up. So it’s quite militant, it’s quite confident, yes. DESVARIEUX: Okay. CHEN: I’d just like to add, also, in a lot
of these incidences when you do see workers going on strike, in the end it does end with
some kind of negotiation. Often the management will give concessions. You know, it’s rare
that you’d see, like, a massive victory, but, you know, frankly, the management often just
wants people to go back to work, and often workers know what they want, and when they
get what they want, you know, things just continue. I mean, you know, we may not see,
you know, huge, radical upheaval in the streets any time soon, but workers do know how to
organize and can take very targeted strategic actions when they know–when they have a specific
goal in mind. DESVARIEUX: Alright. Let’s turn and talk about
this Guardian report that came out talking about a labor organizer, Zhang Zhiru. He basically
has been missing for more than 24 hours, and his wife suspects that he has been detained
by state security services. Can you tell us about Zhang Zhiru’s role in organizing the
strike, Xiaoming? CHAI: And, actually, I would not say he is
the organizer, because this strike was spontaneous and not well organized. And it’s still [the
mainly] [incompr.] automatic phenomenon. It’s planned, or that we even can say not planned
by the workers but launched by the workers. And Zhang Zhiru, he’s a quite senior, experienced
labor activist in Shenzhen and in Dongguan. Yes, he is quite famous, and he has been involved
in the strike, probably from 12 April, but the strike did start before that. And Zhang
want to advised and support the workers, and legally and also technically, how to [learning]
and how to organize the individual groups. And Zhang was detained by the local authority
or local policemen, I think, not only 24 hours. Probably–to today it’s already the third
day. And his wife still cannot contact him, and also not only himself, and also other
individual activists also had been interrogated by the local authority and the policemen,
yes. DESVARIEUX: Michelle, is it common for labor
organizers to be intimidated or detained? CHEN: Yes, common for anyone, you know, doing
anything bold politically in China to suffer some kind of intimidation or harassment. You
know, it doesn’t always wind up with someone actually being detained, but, you know, these
things are nothing new. The issue with labor activists is, you know,
as Xiaoming was saying, this is kind of a spontaneous uprising that’s coming from the
grassroots. So it’s going to be very hard for authorities to contain simply by detaining
one guy that they perceive as the leader. Frankly, it doesn’t–I mean, I’m viewing it
from afar, but it seems like you don’t–it can never be just one guy who’s leading, you
know, tens of thousands of workers; there’s got to be something else going on there. So
I imagine that this campaign will survive despite the detention, and if anything, hopefully
this will open up some more room for dissent in organizing and for leaders to have a little
bit more breathing room, because what they can do as organizers is help to negotiate
when it comes down to bringing workers to the table. Ultimately, the government can’t
keep down 30,000 people. And if there is a representative who’s willing to represent
their interests on behalf of the entire workforce, then they need those people. They can’t just
throw them in jail. DESVARIEUX: Alright. Michelle, I’ll ask the
final question to you. Do you foresee that we’ll see a shift from Western multinational
companies to start investing and looking to produce elsewhere? Does this signal sort of
an end to cheap Chinese labor? CHEN: I’m hesitant to say that anything signals
the end to cheap Chinese labor, because it has been such a faithful servant to U.S. consumers
and for so long. But yes, I mean, you do see companies increasingly
undertaking capital flight, as it’s known. You know, just as we saw manufacturing jobs
being offshored from the U.S., you’re seeing companies that used to produce a lot in China
sort of slowly shifting a lot of their production facilities to countries with even lower cost
in labor, such as Indonesia or Cambodia or Bangladesh, you know, as we’ve seen with the
recent tragedies that have gone on there. So it is, you know, a race to the bottom that
is continuing. But, I mean, the thing is, Chinese workers
have a lot of leverage. I mean, you know, 1.2 billion people is not something even a
huge multinational can just walk away from. So if they can use that leverage and use it
to advance, you know, political as well as economic justice, that might change China,
it might change the manufacturing industry for the better. I just hope Adidas and those
other companies will actually start to listen before it’s too late. DESVARIEUX: Alright. Michelle Chen, as well
as Xiaoming Chai, thank you both for joining us. CHEN: Thanks. CHAI: Yes, thank you. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on
The Real News Network.


21 thoughts on “30,000 Chinese Factory Workers Strike Against Maker of Nike Sneakers”

  • thanks RNN for putting in the dialogue. you normally put on your website but cool you put it on youtube too. gj

  • martymakeupartist says:

    it does not matter how long a protestor takes to take action, as long as they do, they have done their duty.

  • The only reason they strike is because of social injustice and that is created by the companies, essentially the companies created the strike they need to take responsibility for it.

  • James Alexander says:

    In New York – which used to have the lowest cost of production only 200 years ago – instead of demanding benefits and better healthcare and housing, the working class now line up in front of Niketown on 57th and Supreme and line up for days and resort to violence to get a pair of exclusive sneakers Jordans/Foamposits. Maybe one day in China the children of these workers, and their children's children can fight to wait in line over a branded and falsely scarce clothing item that enables them to define their individuality too.

  • World of AI - Music says:

    They can move if they want, but I'm positive that people in other countries will strike back as well. It doesn't matter if it's Cambodia, Indonesia, or whatever… people are not stupid to work as slaves (Pretty much how the corporations want it to be). Unless, they can think of some way to build parts in outer space (Think Jetsons's Movie), it's only a matter of time before they need to face everyone else. 

  • Polarcupcheck says:

    Nike is a piece of shit. Chinese education should involve the Teamsters union. I don't buy Nike products, that is my boycott.

  • I am not a minimum wage person, but If I was I could not live, I would struggle… Factory's and business's not just in china, but all over the world.. Get away with paying the least amount they can get away with, while they cream the cash in for themselves………
    But the workers in china are living on fresh air, there wage is the lowest of the low. Letting your slave masters know your unhappy can't be a bad thing.. We need Slaves to revolt everywhere

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