Report on the Conference in Vienna on Workers’ Struggles in Globalised China

22-24 September 2011

Especially owing to the fact that a qualitative and quantitative increase in the numbers of organizers could be achieved, the Conference on “Workers’ Struggles from East to West: New Perspectives on Labour Disputes in Globalised China” in Vienna 22-24 September is seen as a success by different sides. Expectations were exceeded quantitatively and qualitatively. Initiated by transform! austria the original funds of transform! europe could be tripled. 150 had enrolled in the conference; in the public panel discussion at the University of Vienna 200 people took part.
The conference brought together world class researchers and activists from very different backgrounds and approaches – on the basis of solidarity with the labour movements:
Prof. Chang Kai (Beijing, he was a mastermind for the shaping of the new Chinese labour law from the workers’ view) keenly advocated the implementation of the new labour law and a new pattern of distribution in favour of the workers, and saw new class consciousness. Prof. Pun Ngai (Beijing, Hong Kong – she wrote famous books on (female) workers in China) stressed the importance of cooperation of students and workers and described successful examples like SACOM (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior). Huang Jisu, coordinator of the new (and interesting) journal International Critical Thought, supported by China, and a well-known author in China argued that the working class in China has up to now never been in the centre of politics, while his delineation of the framework implicated the conclusion that in China some basic changes are pending. The “Chongqing-model” with higher domestic consumption, construction of cheaper dwellings, the explicit target of decreasing the Ginicoefficient, the enlargement of the public sector and no tolerance to corruption are all signs to that. Prof. Lu Huilin gave an appalling picture on labour relations in the important construction sectors. Many illustrative case studies were presented, e. g. by Andrea Komlosy (Austria) and Florian Butollo (Frankfurt), on upgrading Chinese industry in the coastal regions and the probable “end of cheap labour”.
Gianni Rinaldini, former secretary of FIOM (Italy) described the latest disputes and attacks on workers’ rights in Italy; this provoked a scenario of (negative) global convergence. Carlos Polenus (ITUC Brussels) designed a realistic but more optimistic view on cooperations with China. To the question whether Solidarność could be a model he answered that the later development in Poland from a worker’s point-of-view would not suggest this model. Prof. Anita Chan (Sidney) described the hopes and also frustration after inspiring unionizing campaigns in China 2007 (e. g. at Walmart) and the establishment of relations between ITUC and ACFTU (the official Chinese Trade Unions). Hong Kong based NGOs often oppose ACFTU. Upon the character of the official Chinese Trade Unions there were many debates and much disagreement. But it is a matter of fact that trade union issues in China are handled differently in regions. In South China there are already significant developments to bottom up electing processes – basically this recent development can only be understood properly when history and the sequence of different waves and counter-waves are considered.
Reports on the conference in left publications like Manifesto, L’Humanité or Neues Deutschland are announced.
The documentation of the conference with more than 30 presentations is to be found on: