While the Chinese government has invested as much as $58 billions to stage the Shanghai Expo, Chinese workers at Foxconn Technology, a Taiwanese-owned electronic manufacturer which assembles products for corporates such as Apple, Dell, HP, Motorola, and Nokia are jumping out of their sweatshop factories. Foxconn employees nearly 600,000 workers all over China, and its total network is worth 54 million dollars. The boss, Terry Guo, is the richest man in Taiwan, but the workers are only paid $132 a month, which is the legal minimum wage in China, and work over time to boost the salary. There have been 12 suicides in the Shenzhen factory this year alone and most of them were 18 -24 year old second generation farmers who migrated to the urban factories from the South because there were simply no work opportunities back at home. They sign off their rights to the labor laws and work as much as 36 hour over time to compensate for the high living cost in the city. The Foxconn workplace is extremely oppressive—military like security control (also because companies such as Apple demanded so), crowded dormitories and long work hours. To prevent workers from the same hometowns to mobilize, they are separated into different sectors of the factory as well different dormitories. While the Foxconn workers clearly face severe workplace alienation, the Shenzhen government expressed that they haven’t found any direct relationships between the suicides and the workplace issues, but purely personal “psychological stress.”
However tragic and agonizing, the sweatshop condition in the Chinese workplace does not silent the working-class but has the potential to mobilize them. The workers at Foxconn have gotten a 33% pay raise after the suicide incidents. Many workers in Southern China have been inspired by the event and started to mobilize on their own workplaces. On May 17, nearly 2000 Honda Motor Co. factory workers walked out on the job to demand for higher wages. The strike lasted for more than two weeks and was resolved by getting a 24% pay raise. Though some minimal pay raises are far away from enough to compensate for the workers’ living expenses and harsh work conditions in the neoliberal Chinese cities (the legal minimum wage in Shenzhen after the raise is 900 RNB, about 83 cents an hour), the Foxconn agitation and Honda strike demonstrated the energy of the Chinese workers and the potential power they have if they were organized nationally. Meanwhile, more than 10 Taiwanese labor rights organizations as well as the Hong Kong Students & Scholars Against Cooperate Misbehavior were protesting against Foxconn’s sweatshop operation as well as their Apple bosses in the US in solidarity with the Chinese workers. The Foxconn incident has awaken the long class conflicts between the ruling-class and working-class in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong beyond their ethnic and political boundaries.
The sweatshop conditions are not a unique Chinese problem but are spreading all over Southeast Asia and other developing countries. The Western bosses of Apple or HP will continually work with the Chinese bureaucracy and Taiwanese bosses to ensure they are still profiting as much and preventing any worker mobilization, even if that means killing their workers and stealing their labor and resources from their home countries. We have heard the workers in the US and in Taiwan complain that the Chinese workers have stolen our jobs. But they are not stealing our jobs–our jobs are destroyed by the US corporates and the Taiwanese government who is signing on neoliberal contracts with the Chinese bureaucracy so they can help the big corporates profit more with even less work. Specifically, the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) that the leadership of Kuomintang is currently signing with the Chinese despite its controversy and Taiwanese workers’ anger, is more or less a preparation to sign on the Free Trade Agreement (but without the same protections) internationally afterwards. The ECFA will not only allow big capitals to flow across the Taiwanese strait but reduce manufacture jobs and average wages locally. When the Taiwanese and Chinese bureaucracies say they support “peace between the strait”or “better economic relations between the strait,”they don’t mean that they are really for peace, or anti-war, or jobs for the poor. They mean, forget about our rights to self-determination, forget about the Taiwanese colonial struggle, forget about workers’ struggle in Taiwan or China or Southeast Asia, the ruling-class will unite and ensure their status by exploiting us all together. Our countries have been sold out by the imperialists and the bourgeoisies for too long, and nothing has changed except that the ruling-class has learned more and more ways to cheat us that “the better life is coming,” just like the extravagant and wasteful Shanghai Expo that has destroyed many local Chinese folks’ homes. It’s time for us, Asians in the US, in Taiwan, in China, or in other parts of the world, to get more organized than our bosses, and call for international workers solidarity beyond the border and ethnic lines from below.