Wildcat labor actions spread in China

Although winning no coverage in English-language media, labor actions are spreading across China in the current economic downturn in the People's Republic. On Jan. 22, workers hung banners outside the headquarters of the Guilin No. 3 Construction Company in Guangxi province to demand payment of outstanding wages owed to hundreds of employees. On the same day, migrant workers in Jinan, Shandong province, raised banners in the city's central business district demanding payment of backlogged wages by the China Railway Construction Corporation. By definition, such actions are not authorized by the state-controlled All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU).

These recent actions were related by exiled human rights attorney Teng Biao to journalist and rights advocate Lily Xiang Li after the symposium "Non-violent Resistance, High-Tech Totalitarianism and China's Future," held this past weekend at the Victims of Communism Museum in  Washington DC. The account appeared on the Chinese-language service of Voice of America

Several other worker protests over wages arrears this month—although not yet the incidents in Guilin and Jinan—appear on the Strike Map page maintained by Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin.

Teng Biao told VOA: "China's economy is in very bad shape now, and many places cannot pay wages. News about workers and migrant laborers demanding wages in various parts of China breaks out every day."

Despite the ongoing crackdown on dissent—especially since the 2022 "Paper Revolution" protest wave—small, spontaneous actions persist. Said Teng Biao: "Even under the current high-tech totalitarian rule of the CCP, using facial recognition, real-time monitoring of mobile phone location, et cetera, it still cannot be stopped... This is the true situation of non-violent resistance among the Chinese people."

Citing the writings of nonviolence theorist Gene Sharp, Teng Biao said he sees the potential for a real threat to the CCP dictatorship to emerge from these seemingly uncoordinated actions: "The principle of decentralized protest is important. Even if some important figures are arrested, the movement can still continue. We must have confidence."

Among the more significant actions we have noted in recent years have been the November 2022 worker protests at the iPhone plant in Zhengzhou, as well as that summer's protests in Henan province over bank depositors being denied access to their savings. In 2021, there was a crackdown on efforts to organize food delivery workers in Beijing, while 2019 saw widespread protests in the automotive sector over wage arrears. 

Of course we have pointed out before the irony of the Cold War framing of the symposium's host, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation. The real abuses documented by the Foundation in the People's Republic are today endemic to China's aggressively capitalist economy.