Workers demanding higher wages rallied outside a Honda plant in southern China yesterday, part of a rash of industrial action at Chinese factories highlighting growing restiveness among migrant workers.
Several hundred workers gathered at the front gates of parts supplier Honda Lock (Guangdong) Co in the city of Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, where staff walked off the job on Wednesday.
A policeman reached by phone at the city’s Xiaolan precinct confirmed the action, but said he was unable to release details without permission.
“We’re keeping our eyes on this strike,” the officer said, refusing to give his name, as is common with Chinese government workers.
An official from the official Chinese Communist Party controlled-union in Zhongshan said representatives had been sent to the scene to “handle it.”
She refused to give details or her name.
A receptionist who answered the plant’s main number said executives were in meetings and no information could be released. A Honda Motor Co spokeswoman in Tokyo, Yasuko Matsuura, said she had no details about the present situation.
Yesterday’s rally came as Honda was resuming production at two other car assembly plants after resolving a three-day strike at parts supplier Foshan Fengfu Autoparts Co.
Honda said the factory employees agreed to a pay raise of 366 yuan (US$53.60) per month for each full-time worker. That would increase pay for a new employee to 1,910 yuan per month.
Some workers held out for more and the union said about 30 people fought with union officials on Monday.
Japan’s Brother Industries Ltd also said it had ended a week-long strike that had stalled production at its industrial sewing machine factory in the central city of Xian. Another strike, at a Taiwan-run rubber products plant west of Shanghai, also ended earlier this week after workers took to the streets demanding wage hikes.
Such incidents are an unsettling development for foreign manufacturers and a privileged communist leadership now far removed from its roots in labor movements a century ago.
Younger Chinese now seeking work in factories were raised in an era of relative plenty and have higher expectations and less tolerance for highly regimented factory living.
A spate of worker suicides at the mammoth factory complex operated by iPhone maker Foxconn in the southern city of Shenzhen has drawn particular attention to the intolerable stresses many young workers face on factory floors run with military-style discipline.
Geoffrey Crothall, spokesman for the Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin, said workers had largely been willing to bide their time and accept their wages during the recent economic slowdown.
But since the economy began to boom again last year, they’ve found themselves working longer hours with no appreciable improvement in income, prompting some to take action, Crothall said.
“They see strikes have been successful elsewhere and decide to try their luck,” he said.
Crothall said the strikes also revealed deep disdain for official union representatives, who are appointed by management and the Communist Party rather than elected by the workers themselves.
However, he questioned media reports saying the Honda Lock workers wanted to form their own independent union, saying it was more likely a desire simply to elect their own leaders who represented their own, and not management’s, interests.