Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Collective bargaining under new law

One little wrinkle in China’s new Labor Contract Law:

Whereas in the past workers could engage in collective bargaining through their own chosen representatives if there was no ACFTU branch in their workplace (according to the Labor Law and Regulations on Collective Contracts), they may now (only?) do so “under the guidance of the next-higher level union.” China Labour Bulletin has more details in its new report available here.

Of course, in practice the ACFTU has always tended to intervene anyway. So, is this really a step backward? Or something positive that will push the ACFTU to engage in more collective bargaining? We’ll have to see how it’s implemented…

Also, there's more great coverage from Global Labor Strategies and Beijing Newspeak on the law.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The U.S. on Pakistan = India and China on Burma

General Musharraf has tear-gassed, beaten and arrested his country's ordinary citizens and civil society. The Supreme Court has been replaced. Opposition party leaders have been silenced (though Bhutto has been left alone and may, finally--just maybe--taking a real stand that puts her outside her carefully managed strategies within strategies). Needless to say, labor activists have not been spared.

Khalid Mahmood of the Labour Education Foundation was arrested (and later released), as was Nisar Shah of the Labour Party. Other arrests included the convener of the Pearl Continental Hotel Workers Solidarity Committee, Liaqat Ali Sahi, and two members of the Solidarity Committee, G. Fareed Awan, Assistant General Secretary of the All-Pakistan Trade Unions Federation (APTUF) and Ayub Qureshi, Information Secretary of the Pakistan Trade Union Federation (PTUF) (see the IUF report). Activists belonging to the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum narrowly escaped arrest in Karachi; workers helped them evade police. Mohammad Ashiq Bhutta, Information Secretary of the National Federation of Food, Beverages and Tobacco Workers, was arrested and later released.

And this is for the war on terror? As Asma Jangahir of the Pakistan Commission for Human Rights stated: "Those he has arrested are progressive, secular minded people while the terrorists are offered negotiations and ceasefires."

More specifically, if Musharraf returns with a coalition of religious parties to hold him in power after all this, it will certainly seem like a cruel joke.

Pakistanis have struggled for decades for real democracy and social justice, through divisions and dictators. And they have voted for religious extremists in lower percentages than Americans have.

Now, an incredible consensus seems to be forming between workers and landless farmers and their advocates, liberals in the form of lawyers and human rights organizations, stodgy party activists, and thousands of citizens who don't fit any specific category. The idea of a Pakistan that trusts itself, that will make its courts matter, that wants to begin again without the military, or without such a domineering military, is taking hold.

Or it is trying to take hold, amid all the confusion and bitterness of what is essentially martial law.

And yet, the U.S. is worried--not so much about the broken skulls and packed prisons, but about that very energy I just described. From The New York Times:

Among Western diplomats, there is rising concern that General Musharraf’s declaration is also damaging the standing of the Pakistani Army as an institution, which has long been seen as the force holding the country together.

“It’s the concern about how the military retains its position as an institution of national respect,” said a Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity. “These kinds of things can be damaging to the institution, the respect for the institution and also the morale.”

The "standing of the Pakistani Army"... we're crying for THEM at a time like this?

This is not because American politicians (or "Western diplomats" generally) are so reactionary that the idea of people power makes them scurry into dark places and plot to stab the masses in the back. It's just that they have no sense of how to even talk to the Pakistan people if they had to. Sure, everyone wants democracy, but the military is an old buddy and we just, y'know, feel comfortable around it.

It's a little like the good ol' boy diplomacy of the U.S. in Central America during the Cold War. I'm sure some in the State Department or CIA genuinely wanted fair elections in El Salvador. But if the elections had to be held amid massacres and intimidation, well, at least we could keep our dinners with the elite down there.

And, when things settled down, bones of El Mozote and those murdered nuns largely forgotten, and the rebels too worn out to keep up their dreams, we could teach the "Salvador Option" to young commanders in Iraq.

I'm not saying dash it all to hell. Sure, keep your ties with generals if need be. But for heaven's sakes don't make it be about them. Make it be about the country.

Right now, U.S. rhetoric is sounding a lot closer to China and India's statements on Burma than anything else.

Chinese diaspora photographers at Q Art Space

For those in New York City, there's a great photography show going on at Q Art Space entitled "Intimate Distance." From the its press release:

...a photography exhibition featuring nearly fifty photographs by nine photographers of the Chinese diaspora in the United States. Young, well-traveled, globally-minded, confident and eloquent… these photographers are distinct from artists of the Social Realism, Kitsch and Pop generations.

The exhibit is up from November 8-17. For more information, visit the site: Q Art Space.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Coal deaths down by 50 percent? No.

From China's State Administration of Work and Safety:

Deaths in China's coal mines, the scene of some of the worst industrial carnage, fell from 4.94 per million tons of coal mined in 2002, before the safety law was adopted, to 2.04 last year.

...which begs the question: how much did the production of coal go up between 2002 and last year? The number of deaths in total has not fallen a whole lot.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Hong Kong gangsters and doing what's right

What is so attractive about Hong Kong gangster movies? Obviously, the tough guy stuff has its attractions--and the ballet-like battles in John Woo and Johnny To movies are incredible. But what sets these stories apart from action flicks is the acknowledgment of choices.

Having a criminal at the center of a film forces a certain degree of reflection. If he is to seem at all accessible to viewers, he (and the character is almost always a he) has to acknowledge the pain he causes others by his actions. And if we are to go a step further and actually admire him, the criminal must call on a host of rather old values, values familiar to us from fairy tales, old books with brutal, awkward senses of morality, and our own lives--loyalty, family, honor, redemption.

In crime stories generally, but Hong Kong ones in particular, death takes on a gravity that is almost altogether absent from your typical Hollywood blockbuster.

I've sometimes come out of summer shoot-em-ups--even the ironic stuff of Tarantino and Rodriguez--with a nagging sickness in my stomache. I don't mean to seem holier-than-thou, but I've often felt guilty watching "bad guys" shot down by the dozens without a moment to think about the violence that has just occured. Was that evil henchman really evil?

Chow Yun Fat's characters aren't so certain they are right. In fact, they usually know they are wrong and are searching for some decency to pull them out of the rut they're in--a woman to save, an estranged brother who's a cop, a friend trying to go clean, etc. They play songs on the saxaphone for each of their victims ("The Killer") or make paper cranes for the dead ("Hard Boiled"). And they have hang-dog, worn looks on their faces.

Sometimes, I think American politics could do with a touch of the tragic, a touch of Chow Yun Fat.

A history professor when I was an undergraduate mused that Europeans approach rulers with a history of hundreds of years of lousy kings in mind and therefore have less of a need to airbrush history. The same might be said for China.

America's idealism and simple storylines have sometimes been just what the world is craving. But not now. What is needed is an America that can feel the weight of an awful mistake, of the need to atone, that will not just write off every horror as a "learning experience." It needs to see itself more as a sinner trying to make things right.

Such an America wouldn't allow its president to blanket waterboarding with the lie "America doesn't torture." And such an America would understand the world a bit better.