Thursday, December 28, 2006

No new labor contract law for now

The English-language China Daily reports that the National People's Congress has put off a vote on the second draft of the country's new Labor Contract Law (see Vote on labour contract law put off). According to the article, the postponement came--in part--as a result of strong opposition from employers' groups.

In fact, if China Youth Daily Online is to be believed, the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai is not the only of these groups (see 劳动合同法该如何偏向劳动者). 190,000 comments have been made on the law to date.

Like China's Marriage Law or oft-postponed Property Law, this might shape up to be a landmark piece of legislation in terms of public debate.

It is only natural that employers will want more flexibility on hiring and firing, unions, etc. That's their role. And, for those of us with the workers who are not entirely enthralled with warm, fuzzy, delicious CSR, it should be only natural to take the employers to the mat.

Debate is good. Labor should keep its voice loud.

[Photo courtesy of Business in Asia]

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Pinochet is dead--I hope

Pinochet is dead. It's a pity he wasn't behind bars when he gave up the ghost.

There's still a core of people ready to revive him as the classic developmental-state autocrat. Columnists for the Washington Post, LA Times and others are--with the necessary caveats--praising Pinochet's tough choices to save his country from "communism," his championing of the middle class--that pure, blameless, hopeful, apolitical creature beloved by liberals on sight (but especially when far off and out of sight)--and his alleged success at "restarting" the economy.

Never mind that Allende's government was the victim of a concerted campaign of economic sabotage before Pinochet took over (the Nixon administation spoke of making Chile's economy "scream"), that the first years of Pinochet's rule were marked by utter economic ruin, or that Chile's fortunes eventually turned around as much because of state re-intervention in the economy as the cleverness of "the Chicago boys."

If he wasn't an economic savior (other than in terms of his own ill-gotten gains), what did Pinochet accomplish? He left thousands dead or tortured. He divided his nation, as last week's protests and counter-protests show. And, equally importantly, I am told Pinochet created a deadened political culture in Chile and a disengaged and wary youth.

This comes as the Economist reports that confidence in democratic institutions in Latin America is higher now than it has been for years. Corruption may be down. Businesses in the region are reviving.

And the Left on the continent has arguably never been stronger.

So, of course the old coup plotters are back. They nearly knocked off Chavez (with kudos from the NY Times). They were underhanded to say the least in Mexico's last election. And they have plans for Bolivia's Santa Cruz (see today's NY Times article).

Bush tells us that democracy is rough. But south of the border, he seems eager to smooth things out. Give things back to the good old boys who shook their heads at Pinochet's excesses but still did business.

Pinochet remains a model--in the minds of some--for every state facing a little too much democracy, a "transition" figure to, uh, democracy again. But without all that messy "participation."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Right and Labor

In regards to labor solidarity courtesy of conservatives, see Alec Dubro's The Right Stands Up For Labor on

Funny how the Republicans want the workers of the world to unite--as long as the workers are in Caracas or Tehran or Havana....

Good, new stuff on Chinese labor

Another good series seems to be on the way from Global Labor Strategies: "Fair Globalization", which sets out to move beyond "protectionism" and "free trade", with a focus on China-America trade. Also, see Andrew Leonard's excellent "The Chinese Sweatshop Paradox", which came to my attention courtesy, as always, of JKD.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Questions about FOCA

What are we to think of the recent Forum on China-Africa Cooperation? Or, rather, about China's involvement in Africa generally?

The international financial institutions are, of course, worried by the lack of conditions on China's deals with the Africa. They say this may undo efforts aimed at promoting "discipline" and "good governance" on the continent--patronizing words, but with some merit. Others, like economist Jeffrey Sachs, see China's investment in Africa as a development tidal wave, which will do more for the continent's poor than decades of Western aid--even if a bit of the money is siphoned off by corruption.

I'm most concerned with solidarity.

Under Mao Zedong, China, with its advocacy at the Bandung Conference and later its "Three Worlds Theory", proposed a special role for de-colonizing nations, beyond superpower rivalry.

In Africa, Beijing gave rhetorical backing to South Africans, Algerians and others shaking off Western rule. It also supported wars of "national liberation" against both colonial regimes and post-colonial governments--with guns, training, and money.

Unfortunately, despite Mao's grand rhetoric, this support was often as much about wearing down and distracting the Soviet Union as it was about the substance of the African insurgencies. In Angola, for example, China (and the United States, South Africa and Zaire!) sided with UNITA and the FNLA--not the more progressive but Moscow-backed MPLA.

More unambiguously positive were the scholarships China gave to thousands of African students to attend its universities. These students sometimes encountered racism from their Chinese peers (there were riots over African men dating Chinese girls in the 1980s). But bonds were established such that young people in China viewed their lives and those of Africans as part of one historical movement.

What will China's new engagement with the continent mean for CHINESE people? How will this help them situate their country?

Will the ordinary exchanges between African workers and Chinese migrant workers toiling thousands of miles from Hunan or Sichuan matter the most? Or will the neo-colonial actions of companies, like the Chinese mining firm in Zambia that shot its strikerst? Will China eventually distance itself from governments like Sudan's? Or will it use Sudan as a rallying point for "non-interference" and "sovereignty"?

And what will this mean for democracy back home?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

[The above video may or may not be viewable from China]

Roughly a year after America's Sago Mine distaster, here's a powerful video on mine deaths from China. With first the Chinese national anthem and then the Internationale playing in the background and numbing images upon images of grieving miners' families it's hard not to feel simple, raw anger.

But a solution to these tragedies must come along a number of tracks--improved rural economies that will leave people more choices (at present, mines pay much more than other jobs in the countryside), effective supervision of local governments, strong penalties for bosses and politicians who turn a blind eye to safety concerns, an independent voice for workers and a willingness to push ahead on these issues, to publicize them even when they become "sensitive."

Note: I am not sure where the makers of the video got their statistics at its end.