Labour Dispatch, the State, and Contested Labour Regulation in Post-Socialist China

Monday, July 14, 2014: 5:45 PM
Room: Booth 41
Oral Presentation
Lu ZHANG , Sociology, Temple University, Philadelphia, PA
The aim of this paper is twofold. First, it problematizes the common assumption of the core/periphery labour markets dualism as a “natural” economic trend or fact, inquiring into the processes through which this boundary is itself defined and contested. Second, it seeks to examine the enduring (albeit evolving) impact of revolutionary and socialist legacies (notably, the populist mass line) on the subsequent labour politics in post-socialist China. Through an in-depth study of the rise of labour dispatch (temporary agency work) and the contested legislative process associated with it, this paper argues that the simultaneous dynamic of flexibilization and dualization of labour markets in post-socialist China has been the result of active state policies and regulations to strike a balance that draw boundaries among its working population. On one hand the market-oriented labour reform has significantly increased labour market flexibility and led to widespread job insecurity. On the other hand, there has been a persistent but evolving dualist employment structure sponsored by the state that constantly creates boundaries and inequalities among workers. The Labour Contract Law, for instance, promises more job security and protection for workers with regular labour contract to shore up the state’s legitimacy, while excluding agency workers to promote flexibility. Yet the ongoing battle over the subsequent Amendments to the law in response to popular discontent channeled by the official trade union, suggests that the Chinese labour politics is not a “settled” fact. The Communist Party’s continuing public adherence to its populist mass line while persisting in the one-party authoritarian rule, has recurrently incited contestation, negotiation, and boundary-drawing by the party-state and its agencies, employers, and different groups of workers. Continual struggles for inclusion by the excluded workers, I content, have periodically propelled the party-state to redraw boundaries and expand labour rights to some of the formerly excluded.