[Contribution by Fons Tuinstra] - The All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), the only allowed trade union in China, has started a campaign to start collective bargaining in its country. The campaign started last month in Hangzhou, an industrial center west of Shanghai, writes the state news agency Xinhua. The news agency suggest that this might be the beginning of a set of wage increases in China.
Officially collective bargaining was already allowed since the year 2000, but all kind of barriers had stopped effectively the use of this negotiation tool. But as the tensions on the labor market increase, caused by its unprecedented economic growth, the central government in Beijing has been pushing the official trade union to take action, where it was in the past almost exclusively a management tool. Starting nationwide efforts to introduce collective bargaining is the latest of a whole rang of changes.
Two years ago the ACFTU took everybody by surprise by organizing the US-company Wal-Mart, a company that has a worldwide reputation for keeping trade union out of its operations. For the first time, the Chinese trade union organized workers against the will of the employer. The ACFTU was also one of the forces behind new labor regulations like the Labor Contract Law, that is in force since January 1 and the Labor Arbitration Law that is in force as of May 1.
While it is too early to see whether those changes are the beginning of a structural change of labor relations in China or merely window dressing, the ITUC decided during its December 2007 meeting in Washington to divert from its longstanding boycott of the state-run ACFTU, but will engage the Chinese federation in an effort to support the changes. One of the major challenges will be to turn around a massive trade union organization that has never really worked like a trade union. Explaining its cadres what "collective bargaining" actually mean is one of those challenges.
Another proposed change will be experiments with the right to strike in a few dedicated areas. At the Wage Indicator conference those zones were already called "Special Striking Zones" in analogy with the "Special Economic Zones" that spearheaded China's economic development in the 1980s and 1990s.