The Changing Nature of Labor Unrest in China

TitleThe Changing Nature of Labor Unrest in China
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsElfstrom, M., and Kuruvilla, S.
Date Published2012///
PublisherInternational Labor and Employment Relations Conference, July 2-5, 2012
Conference LocationPhiladelphia
KeywordsChina, labor unrest, protest, strikes

The argument in the paper is that there is a seismic change in labor protest in China. Whereas strikes and protests were largely defensive in nature, focused on protecting current rights and benefits, we find that since 2008, the number of strikes have increased, and Chinese workers are striking for “bread and butter issues”, i.e. more money and more respect from employers. We demonstrate this change by examining strikes using new data that we have collected, and from interviews with employment relations stakeholders as well as two small case studies of strikes in manufacturing. We explain this change by arguing, consistent with McAdam’s political model, that economic and political opportunities such as the labor shortage, new labor laws, and new media openness in China creates responses by actors that serve as cognitive cues for workers to be more assertive in their demands.