Americans may still be meek, but the Chinese peasants aren't anymore. There was rioting in a Foxconn plant in northern China yesterday. Both the government and the company say that the fighting was a result of a provincial rivalry between workers from Shandong and workers from Henan. Both emphatically deny that the violence has anything to do with unhappiness over working conditions. Unofficial sources, such as China's burgeoning internet underground, tell a very different story. They claim that the rioting was provoked by heavily armed security guards.
There is a growing pattern of labor unrest in China, most of it spontaneous and disorganized. Independent labor unions are illegal in China (something that some American politicians would like to bring here by repealing the 1935 Wagner Act). Any kind of organizing is extremely difficult in so heavily policed a society as China. That incidents like the Foxconn riots and other uprisings in China since 2010 happen at all testifies to the courage and initiative of Chinese workers. They must face far greater obstacles to airing their grievances and risk far worse penalties for doing so than any American employee.
The late dissident Fang Lizhi took a very jaundiced view of China's much praised economic triumph (praised especially by American right wing pundits). The whole point of the expansion, according to Fang, was for China's rulers to get rich, and that for all their much vaunted modernity, China's rulers were enriching themselves in traditional Chinese fashion, on the backs of millions of toiling workers who would have no share at all in China's alleged new prosperity, and certainly no say in the decisions that would affect their lives.
Striking Chinese workers at an Hi-P International factory in Shanghai.
There is an old East European joke that goes "Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it's the other way 'round." To my mind, that is the epitaph of the Cold War.