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In the Name of the Working Class: Narratives of Labour Activism in Contemporary China

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Since their appearance in the mid-1990s, Chinese labour NGOs have mostly focused on disseminating labour law and guiding labour disputes through official channels. In so doing, they have assisted the Chinese Communist Party in achieving its paramount goal of maintaining social stability. In line with this approach, activists in these organizations have traditionally framed their work in terms of "public interest" or "legality," both of which resonate with the hegemonic discourses of the Party-state. However, earlier this decade a minority of Chinese labour activists began to employ some new counterhegemonic narratives centred on the experience of the labour movement and the practice of collective bargaining that attempted to recode the proletarian experience outside of its official representation. In this paper we analyze this discursive shift through the voices of the activists involved, and argue that the rise of these new counterhegemonic voices was one of the reasons that led to the Party-state cracking down on labour NGOs.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 2019

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