CAPITAL FEARS

US Corporations Threaten Chinese Government with Investment Restrictions

By Tomasz Konicz

[This article published in: Junge Welt, 10/17/2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.jungewelt.de/2006/10-17/015.php.]


For months, US corporations engaged in China have tried to prevent the introduction of a new labor law now drafted by the Chinese government. That was the conclusion of a report presented in New York by “Global Labor Strategies” (GLS). GLS is a non-governmental organization founded by veteran US unions that strives for worldwide support and coordination of union struggles.

BETTER TERMINATION PROTECTION

According to the report of GFS, prominent US corporations like Wal-Mart, Google, UPS, Microsoft, Nike, AT&T and Intel threatened reducing their investments in China if the currently discussed draft of the new labor law takes effect as planned in May 2007. The lobby union of US capital active in China, the “American Chamber of Commerce” (ACC), sent a long letter to the government in Peking that articulated the reservations and desired changes of American businesses. Beside the ACC with headquarters in Shanghai representing 1300 US corporations, the “US-China Business Council” and the “European Chamber of Commerce” representing 800 businesses turned to the Chinese government in long letters. According to GLS, all three associations threatened the withdrawal of foreign conglomerates if their objections were not properly considered.

In the course of the public discussion of the legal draft – a Novum in the history of the People’s Republic – the Chinese government according to official statements has already received over 200,000 comments mostly from union activists and from US businesses that favor maintaining the status quo. The planned changes are absolutely revolutionary for Chinese conditions. According to Anita Chan, an expert for Chinese labor law, the wages for indigenous itinerant workers will rise 50 or more percent. All wage earners should only work with contracts to curb precarious employment. According to estimates, 15 percent of all dependent employees in China’s cities presently have no labor contract. The number soars to 70 percent in the countryside. Probationary periods for new hires should be limited to six months. The practice now popular with businesses of paying new workers for “training” in a settling-in-period would be prohibited in the future. Since many labor contracts in China are temporally limited, “termination payments” will be due to the dismissed. In addition according to the legal draft, all employees after a year must automatically be accepted in unlimited working conditions. Dismissals should be made difficult and older employees protected better from terminations.

Representation in the factories should also be recognized. Employees should be able to enter in collective negotiations with factory management on wages, dismissals, labor security and the like by turning to state Chinese unions or choosing representatives themselves. This regulation disturbs foreign businessmen since factory unions would be legalized at least pro forma. However independent unions remain prohibited.

MORE WORKER PROTESTS

China’s past labor law was often broken by businesses and regarded as a “paper tiger” since sanction possibilities hardly existed. In contrast, the new draft provides severe penalties for offenses. The guiding principle of future labor law is “raising the costs for its violation,” not dramatically increasing employee protection, an advisor of the Chinese government told the New York Times.

Peking is under pressure from foreign corporations and from the Chinese labor movement. According to Robin Munro, research director of the “China Labor Bulletin,” worker protests in China are the day’s agenda. “We have a working class movement in China. This movement is not organized but is spontaneous and incomplete. However the working class movement in western European countries was also spontaneous and incomplete before unions were legalized, Munro is quoted by the GLS.

Chinese statistics confirm Munro. Ten years ago, the ministry for public security registered 10,000 large and partly violent protests in the whole country ten years ago. In 2005, there were 87,000 protests with many millions of participants.

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TRANSLATOR’S NOTE:

QUALITATIVE GROWTH AS AN ALTERNATIVE

By Marc Batko

How strange and perverse that our culture sets having over being and pretends not to hear wake-up calls or see signs on the wall? Consumption growth far outstrips population growth. The future depends on our conserving nature, reducing our footprint, mending our own pockets, nurturing tolerance, welcoming criticism and redefining progress.

Profit logic is interrupted by social logic though ethics like solidarity and long-term necessities are often foreign words. Possessions possess us more than we possess them. The SUV owners are not happier; they only have higher credit payments.

Self-righteousness is the grand delusion (cf. Eberhard Juengel). Is it egoism that prevents people from seeing beyond their noses or beyond their plates? Do we mistake short-term constraints for long-term necessities?

Subsistence and sustainable economies are alternatives to credit-based bubble prosperity. Qualitative growth is an alternative to quantitative growth. Our culture rich in things is poor in soul. Instead of welcoming criticism and seeing children and nature with inherent rights, the dominant culture makes competition and inequality into dogmas, normalizes war and militarizes foreign policy. We see the speck in our brother’s eye without seeing the log in our own eye. We clean the outside of the cup and leave the inside filthy. Intelligence is manipulated, information is filtered and dissent is marginalized. The cart is set before the horse and the horse is bridled by the tail when systemic and structural contradictions are repressed.

Our gifts, visions and powers are buried or commercialized in one-dimensional quantitative growth. Instead of developing as international citizens respectful of nature, we are persuaded that life consists only in buying, selling and marketing and that nature is only an external, free good or sink.

“Resist the beginnings!” was a watchword against German Nazism. Resist the beginnings! should be our watchword as we strive to be guardians not owners of nature and forerunners of a more open and human future.