Wednesday, September 26, 2012


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.

Thousands of Foxconn workers clash with security guards in China

By John Chan 

Taiwan-based Foxconn, the world’s largest outsourcing electronics manufacturer, had to suspend production at one of its major facilities, in the northern Chinese city of Taiyuan, on Monday following a protest during which 2,000 assembly line workers clashed with 1,500 security guards.

The unrest is another sign of the rising social tensions in China, where the economy is slowing sharply due to the deepening slump in the major Western markets, threatening to fuel major working class confrontations with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime.

There have been a growing number of strikes in China in line with emerging movements of the working class around the world, including the struggles by South African platinum miners, the strike by Chicago teachers and the ongoing protests opposing austerity by workers in Europe.

The Foxconn plant in Shanxi’s provincial capital has 79,000 workers. It is part of the supply chain that makes components for major international corporations, including for Apple’s new iPhone 5. Foxconn is the largest private employer in China, with 1.1 million workers, mostly young.

According to the British Telegraph, the unrest was sparked late on Sunday night after “a dispute between a worker and aggressive security guards in one of the factory dormitories spiralled out of control” and “thousands of workers streamed off their shifts and joined the fray against the plant’s 1,500 security guards.” The report noted witness accounts, posted on Internet blogging sites, that “grievances over pay and working conditions were also aired” and “the factory’s supermarket was also destroyed.”

About 10,000 onlookers then became involved in the confrontation, forcing authorities to deploy 5,000 police officers to quell the disturbance. The participants, mainly assembly line workers, smashed security posts, factory gates and vehicles, including police cars.

The police only managed to bring the situation under control at 9 a.m. on Monday. As of Monday, the plant remained shut, with 35 paramilitary police trucks parked outside. Riot police guarded the factory entrance, warning workers over loudspeakers that a “criminal incident” had occurred and urging them to respect the law.

Foxconn said 40 people were hospitalised, with “a number of people” arrested. A First Financial Daily journalist who was at the scene claimed that at least 10 people were killed, but officials have not confirmed the report.

The company claimed that the confrontation was “not work-related”. Likewise, the official Xinhua news agency and the police described the fight as nothing but a communal-style clash between employees from Shandong and Henan.

In fact, Foxconn’s security arm is notorious for abusive practices against workers, as part of the company’s military-style management. Online comments appeared on Chinese blogging sites suggesting that security guards beat up a worker who failed to present them with a pass to enter the dormitory, angering thousands of workers.

The Shanghai Evening Post recently sent one of its reporters undercover into the Taiyuan site, where he trained for seven days and then spent three days assembling the new iPhone’s metal back plates. In the dormitory section where the protest erupted, he wrote: “The whole dormitory smells like rubbish ... There was uncleared rubbish outside every room. Cockroaches crawled out from my wardrobe and the bed sheets are dirty with ash. All the windows are barred.”

Workers would be fired if they were found carrying any metallic objects. They had to sit still while working long hours. On the assembly line, they had to produce an iPhone 5 back plate almost every three seconds, and the reporter had to pick up each plate and mark four points, using an oil-based paint pen. “Every ten hours, I had to finish 3,000 back plates. After several hours, I had terrible neck pain,” he wrote.

Foxconn first came to international attention when 14 young workers jumped to their deaths in 2010 because of the unbearable conditions. In a public relations exercise, Foxconn then granted token pay rises, but shifted more production from coastal regions to inland provinces where labour is cheaper. The company’s contempt for workers remains unchanged. Earlier this year, Foxconn’s billionaire CEO Terry Gou likened his factories to a giant zoo, declaring that it was not easy to manage one million “animals”.

Like many outsourcing manufacturers, Foxconn is now expanding overseas. It has eight factories in Brazil, and its next major destination is Indonesia, where the average monthly wage is just one third of China’s. Far from giving concessions to Chinese workers, Foxconn is ramping up the pressure on them, on pain of losing their jobs.

As a result, strikes and unrest have rocked Foxconn’s plants since a threatened collective suicide by hundreds of workers at its Wuhan plant in January. In March and April, thousands of workers at the Taiyuan facility downed tools over the company’s failure to deliver a promised wage rise for entry-level workers, who are typically paid 1,550 yuan ($US245) a month. In June, a thousand workers at Foxconn’s Chengdu plant rioted against security guards.

Foxconn assembles 85 percent of iPhones, or more than 50 million sets a year. Earlier this year, following media reports exposing the company’s sweatshop conditions, Apple CEO Tim Cook toured Foxconn’s plants in China, professing concern for the workers who made his products. He said: “We care about every worker in our worldwide supply chain … Any suggestion that we don’t care is patently false and offensive to us.”

China’s vice premier Li Keqiang also feigned sympathy, asking Apple and other international corporations to be more “caring” to the millions of Chinese workers they exploited.

However, this posturing disappeared quickly, especially when the orders for the new iPhones arrived. In some places, authorities forced students into the Foxconn workforce in order to meet the targets. In Jiangsu province’s Huai’an city, several tertiary institutes compelled thousands of students to become Foxconn “interns” for two months, making parts for the iPhone 5. In Henan province, local governments even subsidised Foxconn’s payrolls to help it meet the production targets.

Foxconn and similar contract manufacturers throughout China and Asia are facing downward pressure on their profitability because of the worsening global economic crisis. Foxconn’s net profit margin fell to just 1.4 percent in the second quarter of this year—down from 1.5 percent in the first three months. Its first half-year profit rose by just 0.5 percent, with deep losses from its handset manufacturing business.

With China’s manufacturing contracting for 11 consecutive months, it is only a matter of time before far broader unrest erupts among the country’s multi-million working class.

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