BARBOZA, DAVID, June 6, 2010, “After Suicides, Scrutiny of China’s Grim Factories” NYTimes, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/business/global/07suicide.html
In this New York Times article David Barboza illustrates the events surrounding the Foxconn suicides, focusing primarily on the first suicide victim, Ma Xiangqian. According to Barboza, working conditions such as long hours, low wages, abusive mangers, and a militaristic life style may have contributed to Ma’s actions. He also cites sociologists, explaining that Ma, like many others, is part of a new generation that is finding its expectations falling short of the reality they find in factory life. He then goes on to cite Economists who say that a decrease in young labor entering the factory industry could negatively impact China’s competitive export market. Continuing the story of Ma, he is then described as going to work in the city, like his sisters and other factory workers, to alleviate his family’s financial burden. Yet working conditions, a lack of friends in the factory, and a demoralizing demotion all are cited as being potentially connected to Ma’s suicide. Barboza ends his article by noting that many of the suicide victims received large monetary compensation from the Foxconn company, which may have led to some copycat suicides.
Foxconn Suicide Cluster, Sina.com, http://english.sina.com/z/100521Foxconn/index.shtml
Xinhua, Sina, May 26th, 2010 “Another Foxconn employee falls to death despite company, government appeals” http://english.sina.com/china/2010/0526/321604.html
In this article the Xinhua News Agency describes the many steps being taken to prevent further deaths, including the installation of nets on buildings, the hiring of mental health professionals, and the creation of 50 member communities among the workers. In this article Foxconn Chairman Terry Ghou is described as losing sleep over these suicides, doing everything he can to make sure no more lives are lost. The government is also cited as encouraging the workers to cherish their lives and stay strong, while aiding in the implementing of psychiatrists at Foxconn. The cause for the deaths is attributed to weak adjustment to factory life on the part of the workers.
Xinhua, Sina, May 28th 2010 “Foxconn tragedies highlight need for economic restructuring”, http://english.sina.com/business/2010/0528/321960.html
In this article the Xinhua News Agency explains the current Chinese economic structure as unsustainable and in need of reform. First they illustrate Foxconn’s operations as a manufacturer for large American companies, noting how the American companies take the majority of the profits from such arrangements. They then go on to note that this reflects the situation throughout China, a situation in which businesses are not in a position to build brand names or develop new technology, thus limiting any ability to pay higher salaries. They end the article saying that what is needed is “accelerated economic reform with a focus of innovation.”
Pun, Ngai. 2005. Made in China: Women Factory Workers in a Global Workplace. Durham: Duke University Press and Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
In her book, Pun Ngai describes her experiences as an anthropologist working in a Shenzen factory alongside rural migrant workers. According to Ngai the workers are subject to a “triple oppression,” of industrial, governmental, and patriarchal structures that work on the subject of the dagongmei, or female worker. The government’s hukou system bars workers from permanent residence in the city, while patriarchal family structures pressure young workers to marry before their youth is spent. In the case of the Industry, Ngai cites Michel Foucault to highlight the ways in which the factory structure disciplines the rural worker into becoming a subject of the factory system, a cog in the machine. The workers also face discrimination, being seen as lowly rural residents in an urban world. Chronic pain is also explored as a product of working in the factories, pain which is both physical and mental, disrupting the lives of the workers, and also, as Ngai describes, becoming a form of resistance to the factory system as it either slows or temporarily stops production. There are also other forms of resistance described, such as the unanimous slowing of the production lines in response to unrealistic demands, or even stopping them in response to something as simple as the radios being turned off. In the end Ngai describes her project as a political project with the hope of creating a minor genre of resistance, speaking to social violence and globalization.
Pun, Ngai and Lu Huilin. 2010. “Unfinished Proletarianization: Self, Anger, and Class Action among the Second Generation of Peasant-workers in Present-day China. Modern China 36(5): 493-519.
In this article Ngai and Huilin describe what they call the “Unfinished Proletarianization of the working class.” According to Ngai and Huilin, the second generation of migrant workers are experiencing a disconnect between expectations and realities, and with an outlook different than their first generation predecessors they are experiencing anger and frustration enough to provoke a greater level of unrest, being more likely to change jobs or instigate collective actions than their predecessors. Growing up in the reform era, they also have a higher education and clearer understanding of their rights and are more likely to seek out ways to articulate their sense of disenfranchisement. There is the sense of being enclosed, neither being able to pursue a future in the city, nor support themselves in their rural hukou residences. Faced with no future in the factory system Xin, the migrant worker who was the focus of this article, went home to make a life for himself in agriculture. But with no experience and his father set against his venture, Xin’s work failed, forcing him to go back to the factories, living and working in a place he was not allowed to call home. This was a trend Ngai and Huilin observed among most migrant workers, unable to go back and make a sustainable life on the farm, yet unable to move forward in the city. Finding themselves in this situation, some migrant workers turn to collective action, seeking out the many avenues available to them to express their discontent, but, as with Xin, they found that these routes often just lead to dead ends. In the end, Ngai and Huilin argue that out of all this the second generation of migrant workers has become aware of their class position, articulating their collective grievances as such.
Chan, Jenny. 2009. “MEANINGFUL PROGRESS OR ILLUSORY REFORM?: Analyzing China’s Labor Contract Law”. New Labor Forum (Murphy Institute). 18 (2).
In this article Jenny Chan addresses the 2007 Labor Contract Law passed by the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee in China. Going into effect in 2008, this law was described as being a victory for the workers it sets out to protect. Yet, as Chan discusses in this article, that isn’t necessarily the case. According to Chan, in most cases labor contracts have yet to be offered to employees, and the bureaus and unions in charge of looking out for the workers are not doing their jobs. The reason for such a lack of enforcement is attributed to the interest of local governments to attract foreign investment, seeking to reduce production cost for foreign investors rather than increase wages and protect the rights of workers. In one case the role of the unions is described as being an asset to employers to subdue unrest, as opposed to the intrusive threat to production cost it is perceived to be when it protects workers’ wages and rights. In the end, Chan notes that while the effects of the labor law are limited, what with local governments being pressured by foreign investors, it is nonetheless the weapon of choice for workers acting against the suppression of their legally given rights.
Chan, Kam Wing. 2010. “The Global Financial Crisis and Migrant Workers in China: ‘There Is No Future as a Labourer; Returning to the Village Has No Meaning'”. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. v34 (n3): 659-77
In this article Kam Wing Chan addresses the effects of the economic slump on the lives of rural migrant workers in China. He looks not only at the disenfranchisement of the rural immigrants by the government’s hukou system, but he also looks at how the Chinese economy makes full use of this unique distinction between rural and urban. According to Chan, in light of the economic slump millions of these workers lost their jobs, with no real prospects in the rural communities where their hukou marks them as belonging to. While programs were created to encourage workers to farm, the reality was that there was not enough arable land, and thus such programs were impractical to the livelihood of these workers. Instead most of them went back to the city to find work where there ensued a “race to the bottom,” in which workers desperate to find work were exploited by companies who would give them lower wages and fewer working hours. Chan also makes clear that the hukou system not only restricts the workers’ ability to live in the city, but also bars them from such government services as education, welfare, and other benefits given to those holding an urban hukou. He even notes that unemployment statistics often count only those with Urban hukou, ignoring the unemployment numbers found in the rural population, which make up a large percentage of the population in most industrial cities. Chan concludes by saying that while such discriminations between urban and rural have clearly contributed to China’s growth, such a system is not sustainable, either economically, politically, socially, or morally.
In this article Jenny Chan and Pun Ngai address the event commonly known as “The Foxconn Suicides.” According to Ngai and Chan, Foxconn is a manufacturing company out of Taiwan with factories based internationally, including China. A very successful company, in fact, the largest electronics manufacturer in the world, it manufactures for many large corporations, including Apple, HP, Dell, and IBM to name a few. Between January and May at Foxconn’s Shenzen campus 13 company employees attempted to commit suicide, with most of them succeeding. Ngai and Chan argue that these deaths need to be understood as being the product of unethical purchasing practices by foreign companies, abusive management in the factories in the interest of worker efficiency, and the role of the local Chinese government as protecting the interests of the manufacturer and not the worker. According to Chan and Ngai, pressures exerted by foreign companies for manufacturers to reduce production costs put the greatest pressure on the workers, resulting in not only long hours that far exceed legal overtime limits, but also in unrealistic demands on worker production, and even the withholding of wages. They also describe the management as abusive, with cursing and degrading remarks being common. Meanwhile, the government protects these companies by ignoring worker appeals against the company for breaking Chinese labor laws. Pun and Chan regard the Foxconn suicides as being the desperate actions of those acting against these injustices. According to Ngai and Chan, there is a large discrepancy between the expectations this second generation of workers have coming into these jobs, and the realities. Interestingly, they also note that while pay raises were granted to employees as a result of this event, operations are now being moved to inland provinces where the pay is far less. To conclude, Ngai and Chan argue that without providing better prospects and protections of rights for workers, suicides may continue as workers speak out against these injustices.
Thireau, Isabelle, and Hua Linshan. 2003. “The Moral Universe of Aggrieved Chinese Workers: Workers’ Appeals to Arbitration Committees and Letters and Visits Offices”. The China Journal. (50): 83-103
Isabelle Thireau and Hua Linshan describe here the ways in which Chinese express their sense of injustice, and how that sense of injustice corresponds with historical trends. They do this in the context of comparing the Arbitration Committees and the Letters and Visits Offices, both being avenues for the Chinese subject to express their complaints to the government. According to Linshan and Thireau, the Arbitration Committee (AC) handles cases pertaining more closely to legal aspects of labor disputes, setting out to resolve them accordingly. In this avenue complainants tend to be mainly non-manual workers with a higher salary, perhaps pertaining to the higher costs of litigation along this avenue. On the other hand, the Letters and Visits Offices are intended to provide a form of communication between the people and the government, allowing them to air grievances and suggest reforms. The Letters and Visits Offices (LVO) are more frequently employed by manual laborers, perhaps in relation to the fact that such appeals are free. This is also where collective complaints are more commonly submitted. Another major comparison between the two would look at what types of complaints are lodged. With the AC complaints are specific, cited cases where laws or promises by the government (in the case of those who work for government owned enterprises) are broken. In the case of the LVO complaints are more broad and address recurring circumstances, with few complaints being connected to a single transgression. Yet in both cases there is an appeal to ideology, especially in the LVO complaints. The ideology employed is specific to what types of complaints are being lodged to which bureau, including the use of state ideology as a ground to legitimize complaints. In all of this, Thireau and Linshan argue that the government needs to remake and clear up its legal processes so that political and social agendas can be better served.
Chan, Chris King-Chi, and Pun Ngai. 2009. “The Making of a New Working Class? A Study of Collective Actions of Migrant Workers in South China”. The China Quarterly. 198 (198): 287-303
Chris King-Chi Chan and Pun Ngai use this article to argue what they see as the development of a working class in China and the potential for future labor strikes. Citing strike instances at two major factories, they illustrate the ways in which resistance was coordinated and grievances were articulated. According to Ngai and Chan, while there is as of yet no clear articulation of class, with most group unity being centered around locality or familial connections, there is nonetheless a collective action being taken along class lines against the grievances from above, such as unpaid wages and management abuse. It is also noted that most protests are internet based, calling for improved working conditions and are set against capital, occasionally resort to legal avenues for resolution. Working and living power structures are also set as being interconnected, with the dormitories being a site for both management and strikers to contest for support from the workers. Yet, while management was often the first to be targeted by these struggles, it was noted that supervisors and technicians often played a part in underground organization of protests. They conclude by saying that such events also served to empower employees as they formulated their own opinions and participated in the strikes, thus articulating strong ideas against foreign capital and acting along class lines.
Johnson, Joel, March 2011 “1 Million Workers. 90 Million iPhones. 17 Suicides. Who’s to Blame?” Wired Magazine, http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/02/ff_joelinchina/
Foucault, Michel. 1995. “Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison.” New York: Vintage Books.
Fox, Suzanne. 2008. “China’s Changing Culture and Etiquette”. China Business Review. 35 (4): 48-51
BBC News, May 28, 2010 “Foxconn suicides: ‘Workers feel quite lonely’” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10182824
Xinhua, May 25th 2010 “Another Foxconn employee falls to death at Shenzhen factory; note found” http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/china/2010-05/25/c_13313857.htm
Chang, Chris, May 22, 2010 “How Chinese Media Use Comics To Criticize Foxconn Tragedy”
-, Maureen Fan, and Foreign Service. 2006. “Critics Dispute Impact of China’s Revised Media Rules”. Washington Post
Video: CNN, June 2010 “CNN: iPhone factory struggles with suicides” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0aZWWZnXDA
MSN, June 2010, “Employees protest over ‘harsh working conditions’” http://news.ph.msn.com/photogallery.aspx?cp-documentid=4140358&page=7