Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Labor Contract Law and lay-offs

As the implementation of the recently-passed Labor Contract Law nears, companies are firing older workers before management is forced to take on workers who have worked for at least 10 years continuously (or have signed fixed-term contracts twice) as permanent employees.

A July 15 issue of the Guangdong paper "Yangcheng Evening News" has a report by Wang Xiaoyun entitled "'The Labor Contract Law' Made Me Lose My Bowl of Food." It tells the story of 50 year old worker Hua Yi, who was employed at a plant since 1996---until recently, when she was told there wasn't enough work for her. New workers, though, were hired in Hua's place.

Another worker, A Yu, put in 21 years at a factory only to be informed that her work was unsatisfactory and fired. She was left to rely on her husband's 600 RMB per month salary to take care of aging parents and a daughter not yet four years old.

If enterprises' worries are a sign that the law may be better enforced than previous regulations, then these firings, while painful, should give some bitter hope to the Pearl River Delta's proletariat.

But managers and workers both know that much depends on how the national law is translated into local law, that things are still in flux. We can only wait until the beginning of 2008. But the wait will be rough.

Airlines and class struggle

After a spell of travel, I have come to believe that the division of airplane seating into (at least) two classes, "economy" and "business", may be the best possible illustration of the inefficiency of inequality.

A few giant seats---roughly 20+ per plane---take up so much space that the remaining 100+ passengers are forced into conditions best compared to a drawing of medieval prisons that I had in a picture book about knights as a child. While two people serve an intermittent, sputtering stream of "business" travelers at the check-in counter, only three people serve an "economy" line stretching back 100-200-300-more frustrated customers.

"Business" is the reserve of "captains of industry" (a phrase borrowed from a European friend of mine). The rest of us, factors of production, belong to the "economy" as a whole.

No doubt, the choice of luxury seating---and thereby a binary airplane, a world of middle class-less travel---makes sense profit-wise, just like sky boxes at sports stadiums.

But what of the rising hopelessness of the ordinary passengers, the angry "ghost" passing through airports like the spirit of Communism described by Marx and Engels in the Manifesto? Shouldn't the companies placate us with some concessions, try to buy us off like Henry Ford did?