Different Demands, Varying Responses: Local Government Responses to Strikes in China

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 09:15
Location: Hörsaal 16 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Yujeong YANG, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA
Wei CHEN, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong
Conventional wisdom says authoritarian local governments rely mainly on repression to handle the growing number of labor movements. Yet, the rapidly increasing intensity and scale of strikes have made it difficult for authoritarian local governments to rely solely on repression. As a result, authoritarian local politicians use fragmented strategies in dealing with workers’ collective actions. When, then, do local authoritarian leaders use repression as opposed to toleration or negotiation as a way to deal with strikes? Why do they react differently to labor collective actions?

We argue authoritarian local governments’ responses to strikes vary depending on the types of demands made in strikes. Based on the strike data available on China Labor Bulletin, this paper traces how Guangdong provincial government reacted to the strikes that arouse in Guangdong from 2011-2014. Using both statistical analyses and case studies, we will examine how the types of demands that workers made in the strikes have changed over time and how the local government’s reaction to strikes have changed by the types of demands. We divide workers’ demands in two types based on the relationship between workers’ demands and their rights stipulated in labor laws: right-based demands and interest-based demands. We anticipate a higher repressiveness (or less tolerance) of local government toward strikes with rights-based demands. Local governments are expected to be less tolerant to demands that challenge the government’s effort to control labor movement through labor laws.

Examining how the local government’s responses to strikes vary depending on the types of demands provides a useful empirical ground to examine the role of labor laws in China in protecting workers’ right and interests.