Thursday, May 03, 2007

Chinese Capitalism Kowtows

From Johann Hari in The Independent :-
an old word once used in the Maoist gulags has come back to China. It is "gulaosi" - and it is used to describe the men and women who are literally being worked to death producing clothes, electronics and toys .
Wie Meiren was a standard-issue gulaosi, the kind you can find in every Chinese town. She was a 32-year-old woman with three kids who left her hungry village and travelled to Dongkeng, where she got a job assembling the toy cars for the British kids' market. She was expected to work 360 days a year, from 7.30am to as late as 9.30pm, with only a half-hour break for lunch and fines for taking too long on the toilet.
Meiren had a family crisis at home. She was forbidden by her bosses from going to take care of it - so she became angry and fainted. She forced herself to keep going to work for the next fortnight, but eventually she became so exhausted she collapsed - and died before she reached the hospital. The autopsy indicated gulaosi - heart and organ failure caused by extreme exhaustion.
Some 50,000 fingers are sliced off in China's factories every month.
Tao Chun Lan was a 20-year-old woman from Sichuan province at the heart of China who moved to Shenzhen and got a job working in a handicrafts factory. One night, she discovered the factory was filling with smoke - and the workers were locked inside. Some 84 workers were burned or trampled to death. Lan jumped out of a window, irreparably damaging her legs. She has received no compensation.
"They don't care if I am crippled for life," she says
Last year, the Chinese dictatorship announced a new draft of labour laws designed finally to allow Chinese workers like her - too late - some basic rights.
The new law would permit people like Lan and Meiren to join trade unions. It would give them the right to a written contract. It would give them the right to a severance payment. It would give them the right to change jobs freely.
The dissident-killing Chinese Communist Party didn't propose this change out of a sudden flush of benevolence. They did it because the Chinese people have in increasing numbers been refusing to be tethered serfs for the benefit of Western corporations.
Last year, there were 300,000 illegal industrial actions in China, a huge spate of "factory kidnappings" of managers, and more than 85,000 protests.
Groups representing Western corporations with factories in China sent armies of lobbyists to Beijing to cajole and threaten the dictatorship into abandoning these new workers' protections.
The American Chamber of Commerce - representing Microsoft, Nike, Ford, Dell and others - listed 42 pages of objections. The laws were "unaffordable" and "dangerous", they declared. The European Chamber of Commerce backed them up. Their lobbying seems to have paid off. The (unelected) Chinese National People's Congress is due to vote on the new labour laws in the next month or so, but the proposals have already been massively watered down.
Scott Slipy, the director of human resources for Microsoft in China, bragged to BusinessWeek, "We have enough investment at stake that we can usually get someone to listen to us if we are passionate about an issue."
As James Mann, the former Los Angeles Times bureau chief in Beijing, puts it after years of observing the behaviour of big business in China:-
"The business communities of China and the United States do not harbour dreams of democracy. Both profit from a Chinese system that permits no political opposition, and both are content with it."
And in this month's Socialist Standard - China: primitive accumulation of capital

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