Exploring the Role of Labour NGOs, Rights Lawyers and Intellectuals in Workers' Collective Actions

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 4:30 PM
Room: Booth 41
Oral Presentation
Elaine, Sio Ieng HUI , Department of Social Sciences, University of Kassel, Kassel, Germany
Chris, King Chi CHAN , Department of Applied Social Studies, City University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
In the wake of the economic crisis in 1970s, the western capital needed a new site for investment (Silver 2003). China has taken advantages of this to turn the country into a global manufacturing hub; foreign-owned factories have thus mushroomed in South China. Because of meager wages and poor working conditions, increasingly more migrant workers from these factories have taken collective actions to advance their rights (Lee 2007; C. Chan 2010; A. Chan 2011; Chen and Tang 2013). Various actors involving in migrant workers’ collective resistance have been well-examined. For instance, Chen (2010) highlighted the role of the government, trade unions, employers and workers in the strike settlement. He and Su (2010) pointed out that judges were requested to go to the protest spots to mediate industrial conflict. Pun and Smith (2007) considered workers’ dormitories an important site for cultivating labour resistance.

However, one gap concerning workers’ collective actions is yet to be filled: what role does civil society actors, such as NGOs, right-lawyers, and intellectuals, play in workers’ collective resistance? According to the authors’ fieldwork, increasing civil society actors have intervened into workers’ collective actions in the Guangdong province. This paper argues the fact that workplace trade unions are subjected to the dual control of the enterprises and the party-state (Chen, 2003) has created room for other social actors to intervene into labour resistance. Their involvements have taken the forms ranging from invisible to visible: provision of advice, knowledge-transfer, legal representation, open endorsement, advocacy campaign and so forth. This paper also discusses the potentials and challenges of civil society actors’ engagement into workers’ collective actions.

The data of this paper is collected through triangulated sources, including interviews with workers, NGOs staff, rights-lawyers and intellectuals, participant observations in workers’ collective actions, as well as documentary research.