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Labour Unrest in the Global Political Economy: The Case of China's 2010 Strike Wave

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This paper argues that whilst the relationship between US consumerism and China's low-wage production has underpinned China's economic growth in recent years, policy-makers are increasingly cognisant of heightened internal and external vulnerabilities, namely increased domestic social unrest and downturns in US demand. Despite calls for increased domestic consumption, opinion remains divided as to the extent to which policy-makers will make a genuine departure with China's export-orientation. This paper argues, however, that the direction of the Chinese political economy will depend much on the transformative role of workers’ struggles. Placed in a broader north-east Asian comparative perspective, we argue that China appears to be on the verge of a transition towards a limited labour supply, as evidenced in increasing labour shortages, rising wages costs and new forms of labour unrest. An in-depth case study of the strike at Nanhai Honda in 2010 suggests that China's migrant workers are beginning to develop a class consciousness and move from reactive to proactive demands. Furthermore, the response of the Chinese state and employers has shifted from one of outright repression to one of accommodation. These trends are likely to be highly significant in terms of China's uneven integration into the global economy.
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Keywords: China; Nanhai Honda; domestic consumption; labour; strikes

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of International Relations, University of Sussex, Arts B368, Falmer, Brighton, BN1 9QN, UK 2: Chinese Studies, Sungkonghoe University, 320 Yondong Road, Kuro-Gu, Seoul, South Korea

Publication date: July 4, 2015

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