Legal Consciousness and Labour Insurgency: A Comparison Between China and the U.S

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 6:30 PM
Room: Booth 41
Distributed Paper
Elaine, Sio Ieng HUI , Department of Social Sciences, University of Kassel, Kassel, Germany
This paper seeks to examine the effects of legalization of labour relations on workers’ insurgency in China by comparing to the 1935 Wagner Act of the U.S. Some U.S. scholars pointed out that the Wagner Act has deradicalised the U.S. labour movement by imbuing legal consciousness that built upon contractualism and private property rights into workers and by confining their actions within the legal institutes and practices (Klare 1978, 1982). Similarly, many scholars in the field of Chinese labour studies highlighted that the labour laws system is used by the party-state to channel workers’ protests into bureaucratic procedures (Lee 2007; Gallagher 2007; Friedman and Lee 2010; Chen and Tang 2013). However, little is known about the grievance-diversion mechanism vested in the Chinese labour laws system. For example, how does the party-state make workers believe that the legal system can protect their interests so that many of them do not launch an insurgency? To what extent do workers trust the legal system? Under what circumstances will they bypass it?

This paper aims to fill up these gaps by analyzing how the Chinese party-state construct the legal consciousness of workers, the characteristics of this consciousness, and when and how workers would act beyond the legal consciousness. I answer these questions from two approaches. First, while not many current studies examine the Chinese labour laws from the perspective of workers, I have conducted 60 in-depth interviews with workers in the Guangdong province in order to find out the agential viewpoint on the juridico-political structures and the characteristics of their legal consciousness. Second, by comparing to the Wagner Act in the U.S., I aim to investigate the impact of this legal consciousness on labour insurgency in China and the possibility of overcoming its effects.