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Title: The emerging role of trade unions in China and their function in strikes
Author: Chang, Cheng
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2014
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An important feature of Chinese industrial relations is the changing role of collective labour since the early 2000s. The authorities in Beijing have introduced substantial new legislation and policies aimed at strengthening the contractual basis of employment and encouraging the extension of trade union membership and collective bargaining. Meanwhile, unofficial strikes in non-state sectors have become increasingly severe in terms of their intensity and complexity. The Chinese trade unions, which in law protect workers’ rights, have encountered challenges from the increasing demands of these strikes. This thesis looks at how the Chinese trade unions have responded to pressures from rank-and-file workers in the private sector. The thesis starts with a review of the development of Chinese labour law relating to dispute resolution and trade unions in the transition from a command economy to a partial capitalist market economy. A literature review of the role of trade unions in industrial conflict indicates the limitations of recent research arising from looking at workplace disputes from the outside. The thesis then presents original case studies of six foreign-owned enterprises, including one joint-venture enterprise. It describes and analyses the process of dispute resolution or avoidance at these workplaces during the strike wave of 2010. The cases drew on a range of interviews and participant observations, and examined the ways in which the trade unions had been practically involved in managing strikes. The thesis suggests that strikes continue to be autonomously organised by workers, while trade unions generally pursue a role limited to resolving the dispute. The cases illustrate how union guidance in dispute resolution encourages concessions to workers’ demands by foreign employers. The operational forms and the effects of this union dominated approach are varied, reflecting the specific industrial relations context at different locations. The research suggests that this reactive union approach is likely to be unstable and conditional. In the reforms that have followed strike action, the status of trade unions is being enhanced as a result of a simultaneous strengthening of their links with both workers and the government authorities. There are mixed implications for the likelihood that the trade unions will become more responsive in character. The thesis provides insights on the potential and constraints of state-approved trade unions in channeling workers’ discontents into formal decision-making processes.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Post-communist Trade Unions ; Spontaneous Strikes ; Functions of Chinese Trade Unions in Strikes ; Case Studies