CCS
CCS Events
CCS Libraries
About CCS
CCS Projects
BRICS
CCS Highlights


Walmart workers in China show how to fight back!



Wu Yandong (China Worker) 7 July 2016

Coordinated strikes break new ground for China’ s fledgling workers’ movement
China has been hit by wildcat strikes at Walmart stores in at least four cities. The strikes are unprecedented and historic because they are coordinated – using social media – in a police state where strikes are usually confined to one workplace or city.

The trigger for the strikes has been Walmart’s imposition of new work schedules, similar to the ‘just in time’ scheduling system at its non-union stores across America. The new system enables management to change work hours at short notice and void extra payments for overtime work as long as each worker’s total adds up to 174 hours per month. Walmart workers often work 11 or 12-hour shifts to make a living wage, and many workers complain that real wages at the company have stagnated since 2009. Since the start of July, the company has moved swiftly to replace the existing 8-hour day for full-time workers and force workers onto the new contracts.

Walmart entered the Chinese market in 1996 and now has 433 stores nationwide, one-tenth the number of stores it operates in the United States. It is seen as something of a weathervane for workers’ struggles in China, with a history of victimisation and dismissal of workers – more than 100 in the past few years – who have spoken out and attempted to organise against its highhanded methods. In the current struggle, workers accuse Walmart of breaking the law and using threats to coerce them into signing the new contracts. Several reports are surfacing that workers are not being allowed to leave meetings with management until they sign.

The All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), China’s only legal ‘union’, forced Walmart to accept the union at its stores in 2006, in a much publicised case, the first of its kind at a foreign-owned multinational. But the ACFTU enjoys zero confidence among Chinese workers – it is closer to management than employees. The ACFTU is not a genuine union but rather an arm of the dictatorial regime and its internal workings are completely undemocratic. At Walmart since the 2006 agreement, local union representatives have invariably been appointed by the management, despite a legal entitlement for workers to elect their workplace representatives.

Online network
The significance of the current coordinated round of strikes at Walmart is that Walmart workers have begun, since last year, to network on social media, creating a potentially powerful grassroots alternative to the bureaucratic ‘road block’ of the ACFTU. From a few hundred Walmart employees last year, this network has exploded to about 20,000 members – a fifth of Walmart’s China workforce – since the company unveiled its new work-hour system in May. This network, referred to as Walmart Chinese Workers’ Association (WCWA) by English news media, uses the popular messaging platform WeChat. There are now over 40 WeChat groups, which provide a forum for the workers to exchange ideas and coordinate action.

On 1 July, workers in two Walmart stores in Nanchang, a city in Jiangxi province, went on strike and staged a procession through the store. Reports say that at least half the Nanchang workforce joined the strikes. This was followed on 3 and 4 July by strikes in Chengdu and Harbin. Images from the Chengdu stoppage have been widely shared on social media. Spokespersons for ‘WCMA’ say they will continue with more strikes until the company back down over the new work-hours system.

Regime’s fear
The Walmart strikes of course pose a serious headache for the Chinese regime. As Yuan Yang writes in the Financial Times, “The strike has realised the Communist party’s fear of co-ordinated cross-country labour unrest just as China prepares to lay off millions of workers as a result of the industrial slowdown.”

Strike have surged in the past year-and-a-half as the economic slowdown has led to wage cuts and plant closures. This year, with its plans to sack 5 to 6 million workers and enforce capacity cuts in state-owned heavy industry, the Chinese regime is particularly nervous about worker unrest. Big protests in March by mineworkers in Heilongjiang province over unpaid wages led to mass arrests of ‘ringleaders’.

Ominously, the National Security Bureau has begun an investigation of the ‘WCWA’ to see if they are “receiving foreign funding” – a standard trick of the CCP (so-called Communist) regime to discredit workers and others organising to defend their interests. This shows there is no ‘safe’ or ‘legal’ path to organising in China under the current regime.

Using social media has benefited many workers’ groups in China, because of the size of the country and the dangers of organising under a regime that does not tolerate any independent movements. But while it can be a valuable tool, ‘virtual’ organisation cannot replace building real organisations – workers have no choice but to combine the use of every ‘legal’ channel with ‘illegal’ organisation on the ground.

International solidarity
For this reason, it is also urgent that workers and socialists internationally show solidarity with the Chinese Walmart workers. International pressure and publicity can have an effect on both the US company and the Chinese regime.

The Chinese Walmart workers themselves are displaying some of the best traditions of internationalism and workers’ solidarity, traditions that endure despite the right-wing nationalistic propaganda of the government. Chinese workers have declared their support for Walmart workers in the US, as shown by one placard at the Chengdu strike: “We support Walmart workers in the US for the Fight for 15 [US dollars per hour minimum wage].”

Also the ‘WCWA’ blog has posted an open letter in support of US Walmart workers. “We have reason to believe that your conditions today will be ours tomorrow,” it says. It is clear that the Chinese workers have learned and been inspired by the example of US workers and the “Fight for 15”. This is a struggle in which the supporters of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) and Socialist Alternative in the US, the sister organisation of chinaworker.info and CWI in China, have played an important role.

Reclaim the ACFTU?
The pressure building among Walmart workers has in some areas forced the local ACFTU officialdom out of their deep slumber to at least pay lip service to workers’ concerns. The ‘WCWA’ are correctly demanding elections for union representatives which has been denied by Walmart. An important struggle around this demand has been waged this year at Walmart in Shenzhen – this forced the local officials of ACFTU to support this demand (it is actually the law, but almost never enforced).

These examples do not mean the official union apparatus can be ‘reclaimed’ by the workers as some NGO leaders argue. The ACFTU is an arm of government and can – when it fears wider social unrest – sometimes act to put pressure on the capitalists to defuse the situation with concessions. This is exactly what happened at Walmart in Nanchang, in the weeks before the workers there went on strike. The local ACFTU office intervened and appeared to broker a deal with Walmart, in return for workers dropping their plans for a strike. The strike has now erupted – bypassing the ACFTU – because this deal fell through.

Workers need to build their own organisations independently of the state and the employers. But workers should of course exploit situations when the alliance of capitalists and government-ACFTU splits, offering opportunities for workers to press forward with their claims, without forgetting for a moment that neither are friends of the working class.

chinaworker.info says:
◾Support Walmart China workers’ strikes – condemn Walmart’s coercive methods!
◾Abolish Walmart’s comprehensive working hours system – for a 40-hour week, substantial pay increases and workers’ right to collective bargaining!
◾No repression against striking workers or their representatives – defend the right of workers to network and organise independently!
◾For independent and democratic trade unions!

http://chinaworker.info/en/2016/07/07/12998/

 Other Alternative Media Websites
 World Socialist Website 
 www.uruknet.info 
 Pambazuka News 
 Abahlali baseMjondolo 
 Indymedia 
 The South African Civil Society Information Service  
 The Real News 
 Municipal Hotspots Monitor 
 Media for Justice 
 RTCC News 
 Workers' Fightback 
 The Vast Minority  
 Indymedia Africa 
 R2K 
 Protest News from Greece 
 Amandla Alternative Media 
 www.todaysalternativenews.com/ 
 Prensa Latina 
 Dissident Voice 
 Buzzflash  
 Information Clearing House 
 Haiti News 
 Media Channel 
 Prisonplanet.Com 
 Telesur TV 
 Western Cape Anti-eviction Campaign 
 Treatment Action Campaign 
 COSATU news 
 Newsclip Autopsy 
 Green Left Weekly 
 The Mail & Guardian 
 Isyandan 
 Think Progress 
 Cape Town TV 
 Pravda 
 Shadow Government Statistics US 
 Uganda Anarchism 
 Whatreallyhappened 
 www.libcom.org/blog/ 
 Upside Down World 
 Hands Off Venezuela  
 Afrol.com 
 Agencia Informação Moçambique 
 This Day (Nigeria) 
 Addis Tribune (Ethiopia) 
 The Namibian 
 The Monitor (Uganda) 
 The Daily Monitor 
 Socialist Worker (UK) 
 The Center for Public Integrity  
 Outlook India  
 The Washington Post  
 The Nation (U.S.A.) 
 AL-AHRAM (Egypt)  
 The Guardian (UK) 
 Mail and Guardian (South Africa) 
 The New York Times 
 Courrier International (le monde)* 
 Narco-news 
 Autonomedia 
 Green Net 
 Alternet 
 Journal of Higher Education in Africa 
 Socialist Appeal  
 Xinhuanet  
 Media Watch 
 Media Alliance 
 Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 
 Media Review Network  
 Z Mag 
 Indymedia India 
 Indymedia Argentina 
 Indymedia Brazil 
 Indymedia Chiapas 
 Indymedia Israel 
 The Electronic Intifada  
 Venezuela News Website 
 Electronic Iraq  
 Freedom of Expression Institute 
 Media Matters 
 Wiki News 
 We Are Everywhere 



|  Contact Information  |  Terms of Use  |  Privacy