Monday, September 24, 2012

Meek As Chinese Peasants

I've always said that Americans these days are as meek as Chinese peasants.  My immigrant students complain that Americans quietly accept mistreatment and abuse from employers that would never be tolerated in other countries, not even in developing countries.

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.


Sid said...

The right wing isn't always and everywhere responsible for lining up with the forces of darkness.

I'm sure there are some examples, but China's economic performance has not been, "praised especially by American right wing pundits." Far from it. For that kind of praise, you'll have to read people such as Tom Friedman - firmly on the left - and Barack Obama, who's lamented his inability to just snap his fingers and command things be done as China's leaders can do.

We can agree on your last line, though.

Counterlight said...

Boris Johnson in the Torygraph in October of 2011:

"China and India have a combined population of 2.4 billion, with a middle class increasingly avid for possessions and status. They get up early; they work hard. The bourgeoisie knows the vital importance of inculcating their offspring with an understanding of science and maths. If you want to see the results of this culture of mental exertion, look at the first-class honours attained in some of our best universities, or the scholarship houses of leading fee-paying schools. One day in 40 or 50 years' time we may well have persuaded them to go down our route, and once again festoon their economies with costly regulation; but in the meantime we need to compete.

"Instead of hoping that they will acquire our debilities, we need to learn from their success. In making their seismic conversion to free-market capitalism, they have adopted a culture that rewards hard work, where taxes are kept as low as possible, where it is possible to create jobs easily, where governments zealously guard their own economic independence and where there is a clear recognition of the role of ambitious infrastructure projects in creating growth and long-term competitiveness."

JCF said...

Barack Obama, who's lamented his inability to just snap his fingers and command things be done as China's leaders can do.

Are you SRSLY *that* Sarcasm-Challenged, Sid???

Rachel Maddow had a great piece on the Chinese oil company---rejected by the US in 2005, which then invested instead in IRAN---in which Mitt Romney was an investor until LAST YEAR!!!

Hate Unions: uniting Chinese Communists and US Conservatives since AT LEAST 1989.

Counterlight said...

What's not to love about China? No floor under wages, no ceiling above hours, no labor unions, a population desperate for work. Like Singapore, China is a one party state where everything is carefully regulated and monitored to keep people productive and society stable and peaceful. Get back to work and no back talk!

Sid said...

Not only that, it has very little political freedom, it's filled with corruption, it's a serial polluter, and the countryside has been economically crushed, comparatively, with the cities.

No, I don't think there's anything to like here for right or left.

(Boris Johnson is an odd example of a right-winger, by the way; he has some traits to admire but would be a square peg in a round hole vis-a-vis conservatism in this country. As I wrote originally, I'm sure there are examples, but China has few friends on the right.)