The Prime Minister of China has just been on the television news (more on the story here) telling “Britain” (by which he seems to mean the British government) not to indulge in “finger pointing” about China’s human rights record. He loves Shakespeare, he said. Do any of China’s critics know anything about Chinese literature?
… Workers complained they were forced to stand during 12-hour shifts with only two toilet breaks, forbidden to drink water while on the job.
They also charged that the factory, operated by Simone Ltd., was feeding them blackened rice and other substandard food, for which deductions were made from their wages. “The Korean management treats us less than human beings,” said one worker. “The male managers walk into female toilets any time they please; we can’t contain our anger any more.” …
But it is not enough of an explanation of such events to say that the people of Guangdong don’t like being horribly treated. My question is: how come they now feel able to be so angry? I mean, it’s not like they have never been maltreated before.
Long-term social trends and the problems of authoritarian rule explain much of the restiveness, but there is another principal reason. Employees these days have much more bargaining power. Back at the Simone factory in Panyu, management said it would fire those who did not return to work. That threat used to be effective, but not now.
Why not? For several years, Guangdong has been short of help. Some residents have become relatively well-off and no longer need mind-dulling employment in factories, something evident in Shenzhen, the booming city bordering even-more-prosperous Hong Kong.
It sounds as if finger pointing by the likes of David Cameron won’t be necessary to make China’s bosses, political and economic, start to become a tiny bit nicer, year on year. Supply and demand, of and for labour, is now working that trick.
The Forbes piece, with its headline about “Conflict handbags”, implies that soon there may be calls for boycotts of handbags made in China. But is it not the willingness of richer people to buy such stuff that is bidding up the price of labour in China, and making such things as the denial of toilet breaks so unsustainable?
Meanwhile, where is the voracious demand for the services of Britain’s public sector workers, who are also threatening strike inaction? The government is going to stop! State teachers will stop teaching! Here is a case where a strike is being triggered by a fall in demand for the relevant labour. The paymaster is feeling the pinch, and wants to cut their pensions. I wonder what the Prime Minister of China thinks about that? Seriously, I would like to know this. Even better, I would like to see him doing some finger pointing. That would be a real laugh.
I don’t know how many illusions Britain’s state pen-pushers and button-pushers have about how loved they are by the rest of us. When we encounter them we tend not to discuss any feelings of rage towards them that we may be engulfed by, which is all part of why we often get so enraged with them. On the other hand, they talk about the “front line” services that they supply, like they know they are in a war, rather than serving anyone besides their bosses. Their calculation has to be that the government needs them, in order for the government to go on being the government. But, the threat by them to stop the government … spending money, won’t necessarily come over as much of a threat to the nation as a whole.
But those state teachers might also want to be a bit careful. If they go on strike too enthusiastically, they might find that people might work out how to get along okay without them, and maybe with humiliating speed.