April 2010

From the Officers
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Chinese Workers Stand Up

The chain of pain suffered by our members whose employers have shifted production to plants in China has been a too frequent topic in The Electrical Worker and on www.ibew.org.

Iconic U.S. brand name products, especially electronics and appliances, which sustained generations of union families, are now being produced in Chinese factories. Workers around the globe are forced to underbid one another—lowering wages and benefits to feed our families. That’s life, we are told. It’s the price we pay for our iPods, iPads and iPhones and cheaper consumer goods.

A torrent of information is swarming over the Internet and major newspapers describing defiant Chinese workers standing up and striking for pay increases and a ratcheting down of the inhumane shop floor stress. The New York Times reports 10 suicides this year alone at Foxconn, an employer of 800,000 workers who manufacture computer components for Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Apple.

Stung by negative publicity, the company’s chairman raised salaries by 33 percent. Meanwhile, at a Honda Motor plant in southern China, workers won a 24 percent pay raise after a two-week strike.

Ten years ago, labor shortages in a population giant like China would have been inconceivable. But the massive flow of capital investment, coupled with low birth rates, now means that many Chinese workers are forced into overtime hours while the prices of food and property peak upward, eroding their buying power. So they are doing what workers have done throughout history—fighting back for better conditions.

I take heart in the struggle of the Chinese factory hands because I support the right of workers everywhere to win a better life. But the additional upside is that these first steps toward fairness and free unions in China means a more level playing field for workers in the United States and Canada as well as other traditional industrial powers. And maybe it’s the first step in reducing our trade deficit with China and creating more jobs on this continent. Keep an eye on the progress of Chinese workers; it may be good news for all of us.


Also: Hill: Charting a Course Toward Cleaner Energy

Lindell K. Lee
International Secretary-Treasurer