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Remaking the World of Chinese Labour: A 30-Year Retrospective

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  • Eli Friedman
  • Ching Kwan Lee

Abstract

Over the past 30 years, labour relations, and, indeed, the entirety of working-class politics in China, have been dramatically altered by economic reforms. In this review, we focus on the two key processes of commodification and casualization and their implications for workers. On the one hand, these processes have resulted in the destruction of the old social contract and the emergence of marketized employment relations. This has implied a loss of the job security and generous benefits enjoyed by workers in the planned economy. On the other hand, commodification and casualization have produced significant but localized resistance from the Chinese working class. Up until now, the activities of labour non-governmental organizations and of the official trade unions have contributed to the state's effort of individualizing and institutionalizing labour conflict resolution through labour law and arbitration mechanisms. Finally, we provide a brief discussion of the impact of 2008's Labour Contract Law and the outbreak of the economic crisis on labour relations. We conclude that the continual imbalance of power at the point of production presents a real dilemma for the Chinese state as it attempts to shift away from a model of development dependent on exports. Copyright (c) Blackwell Publishing Ltd/London School of Economics 2010.

Suggested Citation

  • Eli Friedman & Ching Kwan Lee, 2010. "Remaking the World of Chinese Labour: A 30-Year Retrospective," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 48(3), pages 507-533, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:brjirl:v:48:y:2010:i:3:p:507-533
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    1. repec:taf:ctwqxx:v:30:y:2009:i:3:p:485-501 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Metcalf, David & Li, Jianwei, 2005. "Chinese unions: nugatory or transforming? An 'Alice' analysis," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 19879, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    3. Jianwei Li & David Metcalf, 2005. "Chinese Unions: Nugatory or Transforming? An 'Alice' Analysis," CEP Discussion Papers dp0708, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
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    Cited by:

    1. Jiang, Shiqing & Lu, Ming & Sato, Hiroshi, 2012. "Identity, Inequality, and Happiness: Evidence from Urban China," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 40(6), pages 1190-1200.
    2. Zhong, Ninghua, 2015. "Corporate governance of Chinese privatized firms: Evidence from a survey of non-listed enterprises," Journal of Comparative Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(4), pages 1101-1121.
    3. Seghezza, Elena & Morelli, Pierluigi & Pittaluga, Giovanni B., 2017. "Reserve accumulation and exchange rate policy in China: The authoritarian elite's aim of political survival," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 163-174.
    4. Xing, Yijun & Liu, Yipeng & Tarba, Shlomo Yedidia & Cooper, Cary L., 2016. "Intercultural influences on managing African employees of Chinese firms in Africa: Chinese managers’ HRM practices," International Business Review, Elsevier, vol. 25(1), pages 28-41.
    5. Fang, Tony & Ge, Ying, 2012. "Unions and firm innovation in China: Synergy or strife?," China Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 23(1), pages 170-180.
    6. Ninghua Zhong & Shujing Wang & Rudai Yang, 2017. "Does Corporate Governance Enhance Common Interests of Shareholders and Primary Stakeholders?," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 141(2), pages 411-431, March.
    7. Chang-Hee Lee & William Brown & Xiaoyi Wen, 2016. "What Sort of Collective Bargaining Is Emerging in China?," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 54(1), pages 214-236, March.
    8. Périsse, Muriel, 2014. "Le droit du travail et les migrants ruraux : instituer un nouveau salariat en Chine," Revue de la Régulation - Capitalisme, institutions, pouvoirs, Association Recherche et Régulation, vol. 15.
    9. Howell, Jude, 2015. "Shall we dance? Welfarist incorporation and the politics of state-labour NGO relations in China," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 60219, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    10. Boy LÜTHJE, 2013. "Diverging Trajectories: Economic Rebalancing and Labour Policies in China," Journal of Current Chinese Affairs - China aktuell, Institute of Asian Studies, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg, vol. 42(4), pages 105-137.
    11. Séhier, Clément, 2014. "La responsabilité sociale des entreprises dans l’industrie chinoise : une recomposition de la relation salariale ?," Revue de la Régulation - Capitalisme, institutions, pouvoirs, Association Recherche et Régulation, vol. 15.
    12. Prema-chandra Athukorala & Zheng Wei, 2015. "Economic Transition and Labour Market Dynamics in China: An Interpretative Survey of the ‘Turning Point’ Debate," Departmental Working Papers 2015-06, The Australian National University, Arndt-Corden Department of Economics.
    13. Chen, Binkai & Lu, Ming & Zhong, Ninghua, 2015. "How Urban Segregation Distorts Chinese Migrants’ Consumption?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 70(C), pages 133-146.
    14. Peter S. Hofman & Bin Wu & Kaiming Liu, 2014. "Collaborative Socially Responsible Practices for Improving the Position of Chinese Workers in Global Supply Chains," Journal of Current Chinese Affairs - China aktuell, Institute of Asian Studies, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies, Hamburg, vol. 43(4), pages 111-141.
    15. Amrita Chhachhi & Eli Friedman, 2014. "Alienated Politics: Labour Insurgency and the Paternalistic State in China," Development and Change, International Institute of Social Studies, vol. 45(5), pages 1001-1018, September.
    16. Dave Lyddon & Xuebing Cao & Quan Meng & Jun Lu, 2015. "A strike of ‘unorganised’ workers in a Chinese car factory: the Nanhai Honda events of 2010," Industrial Relations Journal, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 46(2), pages 134-152, March.
    17. You, Jing & Wang, Shaoyang, 2016. "Unemployment Duration and Job-Match Quality in Urban China: The Dynamic Impact of 2008 Labor Contract Law," MPRA Paper 72767, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    18. Sajid Anwar & Sizhong Sun, 2015. "Unionisation and Firm Performance in China’s Manufacturing Industries," Journal of Labor Research, Springer, vol. 36(1), pages 78-102, March.
    19. Yang Yao & Ninghua Zhong, 2013. "Unions and Workers' Welfare in Chinese Firms," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(3), pages 633-667.
    20. Elfstrom, Manfred & Kuruvilla, Sarosh, 2014. "The changing nature of labor unrest in China," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 65141, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    21. John Budd & Wei Chi & Yijiang Wang & Qianyun Xie, 2014. "What Do Unions in China Do? Provincial-Level Evidence on Wages, Employment, Productivity, and Economic Output," Journal of Labor Research, Springer, vol. 35(2), pages 185-204, June.

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