Sunday, June 10, 2018

China's Forced Unionization of MNCs in the PRC

For quite some time now, PRC officialdom has been nudging foreign firms in China towards mandatory unionization. However, this may not be as "pro-labour" as it sounds as we would understand it--the Teamsters at its height probably isn't setting up shop as we speak. Instead, the PRC is forcing MNC worker enrolment in the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), the only Party-approved and -sponsored union in the Middle Kingdom. As we all know, the Party has not exactly been welcoming of other organizations that could be potential political rivals in the future. Hence its marked suppression to date of the Falun Gong (Falun Dafa). That a group dedicated to stretching exercises and the like is politically persecuted owes to its perceived potential to distract the citizenry from Party loyalties. As far as I can tell, the history of the ACFTU is not exactly one of class struggle in the form of labour militancy; how could it remain the sole government-approved union all these years if the facts were otherwise?

A few years ago, the famously union-phobic Wal-Mart was forced to let its employees join the ACFTU's ranks. However, not much trouble has been caused by this move. Similarly, despite much bellyaching from Western firms whose concept of a "union" does not really jibe with that of the ACFTU--see today's New York Times article--there is not much cause for concern at the present time. The NYT article suggests this move may be in response to Western firms being cited for poor labour standards in China, though I personally doubt it. Noted as well is that the union has more often than not served to restrain rather than encourage workers during confrontational situations. Simply, the ACFTU is the un-Hoffa. What we basically have here is another rather manipulative Party device. Given that the ACFTU's membership is huge--200 million is the figure it bandies about--its mobilization potential is enormous.

Ultimately, why ask Western firms to join or face likely punitive measures? If relations between China and certain Western firms sour due to trade conflicts or what else have you, having ACFTU representatives will be a nice leverage point for getting Party policy across in the guise of "standing up for workers' rights." Western firms take note: they do things differently in this part of the world.

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