The international trade union movement should reach out to the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), but establishing a formal relationship is a step too far, argues the Global Labor Strategies (GLS) website in a new post.
With one in four workers in the global economy being Chinese, unions cannot afford to ignore China, GLS argues. Yet while international employer interest groups lobby the Chinese government to weaken labour market regulations, unions have no position on the ground.
During the past months, GLS met with a number of labour experts and found ‘widespread support for global labor’s outreach to the ACFTU’. It argues that the time is ripe: “A huge wave of strikes and protests fueled by growing income inequality and corporate lawlessness has prompted reforms in China on several levels. The Labor Contract Law, came into effect in January, 2008, and support is needed to ensure that it is enforced against a corporate backlash; new laws are in the pipeline; the somnolent ACFTU is being prodded by elements in the Communist Party to more aggressively defend worker interests and reform elements are emerging within the union; experiments are being launched to extend collective bargaining rights in some regions; and a vigorous discourse is under way in China among reformers about how to promote further reforms in the industrial relations system”.
The American Change to Win federation, in which the services union SEIU is a key player, is said to be about to sign a protocol with the ACFTU, although apparently no-one knows what the contents will be. GLS sources tended to find that signing a protocol is premature and may result in a loss of leverage to promote reforms within the ACFTU.
The international federation ITUC takes a more cautious approach by engaging a ‘critical dialogue’ with the ACFTU, emphasising a ‘rights agenda’. In June, the ITUC hosted a conference for members of European Works Councils of companies that do business in China.