Chinese workers are harnessing the power of the country’s growing mobile Internet as an important tool for gaining greater collective bargaining rights, according to a recent report from the advocacy group China Labour Bulletin (CLB).
“The biggest characteristic of workers’ strikes over the past two years is the wide application of mobile phones to take pictures and videos, send text messages and write micro blogs,” said the report.
Mobile Web users have become the driving force behind the country’s fast developing Internet market, accounting for 66% of China’s 457 million online users by the end of 2010, according to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC).
Last summer, Guangdong Honda workers in Nanhai and Foshan held strikes to demand pay rises, one of the most common causes for labor unrest in China over the past two years. Calls for fellow workers to join the strike quickly spread across the Internet. Honda’s workers also set up a QQ group named “Together Is Strength,” which not only facilitated media organizations to follow the strike, but also served as a platform for lawyers and labor experts to offer advice.
Although Chinese law doesn’t forbid workers from striking, many of the workers involved in organizing the work stoppages have often been imprisoned. In April, four taxi drivers in Shaanxi were charged with disturbing public order for instigating a six-day taxi strike in front of the municipal square. Two of them were sentenced to a year in prison, while the other two had to serve six- and eight-month terms.
“Sometimes, local authorities want to make an example like that to discourage workers from making another strike,” said Geoffery Crothall, communications director at the labor research organization.
The government affiliated All China Federation of Trade Unions officially represents all labor unions in China, but it usually sides with the interests of owners and management whenever disputes arose in the past.
The CLB’s report notes that strikes by workers from a range of industries across China have increasingly become everyday events, which highlights the need for collective bargaining in resolving work stoppages like those that occurred at Honda. Under the collective bargaining framework, the workers at Nanhai were able to reach an agreement with the auto maker that stipulated a 35% hike in their wages so that production at the factories could resume again.