Last weeks "riot" at a Foxconn Taiyuan plant in China has drawn attention around the world. Foxconn’s Taiyuan facility employs an astounding 79,000 employees and builds many of America's favorite tech gadgets, including Apple’s brand new iPhone 5.
The question is why did it happen and what does it mean. Some have said the four hour brawl that resulted in forty hospitilizations was the result of tensions caused by a sudden influx of out of twon workers. That could be part of the reason, I suppose, but since "out of town" workers are pretty common in China it is hard to imagine it is really the primary cause.
There is also a long standing history of tension between guards at the plants and the workers and the lack of any effective way for the workers grievances with the guards to be heard, let alone resolved. One 19-year-old worker who Reuters tracked down in hospital said security guards at the plant were rough and there is a culture of managers verbally abusing workers. ”It doesn’t matter who you are, you shouldn’t curse people like that,” the worker told Reuters. “They do it all the time. If it happens over a long time, it builds up and of course it makes people angry and they go crazy like that.”
It seems that it might be mentioned that Foxconn has faced server criticism over working conditions and wages for a long time now in china. China Worker points out:
Foxconn has long been tainted by scandals especially since a spate of worker suicides at its massive Shenzhen plants that became world news in 2010. Since then the company has shifted much production to inland regions such as Shanxi, Sichuan and Hunan, where wages are lower and it has been courted by local governments. But new scandals have erupted including the coercion of student labour to work as Foxconn ‘interns’. A strike at one Foxconn plant in June led to the dismissal of all the workers involved.
A report by several Chinese and Taiwanese universities published last October showed that nearly 28 percent of Foxconn workers have been verbally insulted by supervisors or security personnel, and 16 percent have suffered physical abuse. “Workers aren’t allowed to talk, smile, sit down, walk around or move unnecessarily during their long working hours, which require them to finish 20,000 products every day,” this report stated.
I would also note that Wages make up just 2-5 percent of the iPhone’s sale price, while Apple’s profit is 57 percent of every iPhone sold.
In fact a statement from China Labor Watch says:
Chinese media has reported that on the night of September 23, Foxconn’s Taiyuan factory erupted in a riot involving over 2000 workers that has led to the injury of 40 people. The initial trigger of the incident involves a conflict between some guards and a worker. The guards reportedly dragged the worker into a van and began beating him. This led to the involvement of other workers, quickly devolving into a large-scale group fight between workers and guards. By the end of the night, the guards had ran away.
But the roots causes of this incident demand attention. Foxconn factories, which produce many of Apple’s products, have a history of maintaining militaristic management practices as well as putting an inordinate amount of stress on workers. Coming from a variety of places throughout China, workers are required to work 10-hour day and night shifts with little rest, receiving low wages, and all the while suffering very strict factory rules on behavior and suffering the verbal and physical abuse of guards. Given such stress, the workers are on edge, and incidents like the one yesterday are more likely to occur. This is especially true of a time in which Apple has given Foxconn large orders for new products, like the iPhone 5.
CLW doesn’t know the exact products manufactured by workers involved in this incident, but this Taiyuan factory is currently producing Apple’s iPhone 5’s. We can thus conclude that the pressure on workers at this factory must be greater than usual.
These workers must be treated with respect. And both Apple and Foxconn, with billions of dollars in profits every year, have both a legal and ethical obligation to uphold the rights of these workers.
When Apple puts in orders with Foxconn for the new iPhone, it never considers the human rights of the workers, nor the production capacity of its factories. Rather, it is only concerned with sales revenues, PR, customers----its own interests. Just as in the case of the riot taking place in Foxconn's Taiyuan factory, a large number of workers are transferred to the factory at one time to produce the new iPhone. This large influx combined with the militaristic management at the factory results in tremendous pressure on the workers, and this may have been a root cause of the conflict. This sort of circumstance is bound to lead to the eruption of certain issues in other factories of Foxconn sooner or later.
Chinese workers like workers everywhere are exploited by global capital and as everywhere it is only the workers themselves who have the power and ability to put an end to that exploitation. We are not talking trade unions, or vanguard party here. We are talking worker self organization. It is absolutely essential that the Chinese Communist Party recognize what this means and recognize that Marx was not kidding when he said that the emancipation of the working class could be accomplished only by the working class itself. The role of the Party is NOT to lead the class, not tell the class what to do, not become the State. As an old comrade of mine, Noel Ignatiev wrote:
The task of revolutionaries is not to organize the workers but to organize themselves to discover those patterns of activity and forms of organization that have sprung up out of the struggle and that embody the new society, and to help them grow stronger, more confident, and more conscious of their direction.
Wouldn't it be something if someday the Chinese Communist Party came to this understanding.
In the meantime, Chinese workers are a significant part of the world's multitude which sooner or later will change the world. In fact, in some ways Chinese workers who have shown no hesitation in battling capital could be considered as amongst those at the forefront of a worldwide struggle for the emancipation of their class...and beyond.
The following is from the World Socialist Web Site.