Unions miss the sampan
Yesterday’s excellent TUC and Union Ideas Seminar on China, its impact on the world economy and the trade union response, was slightly marred by how few trade unions were represented.
The clear message from the seminar was that to view China as a monolithic state, with a dreadful record on human rights, was over-simplistic. China, and Chinese business, was now a world player. The owners or majority shareholders of businesses UK unions are dealing with will soon as likely to be a Chinese multi-national as American. China is rapidly expanding its interests in Africa where the UK would have looked to as a ready market for British goods and services. This is no longer the case. China is making this an area to boost Chinese exports, creating jobs and businesses back home, a diversion of resources which has implications for British jobs and union members.
Unions have to understand the complexities of Chinese society where the notion of a ‘working class’ does not exist in the way we would understand the term. A society where worker activists are taking strike action everyday yet the major trade union association, the All China Federation Trade Unions, has to, and wants to, work within the legal constraints of Chinese employment law and which would be expected of it by its members.
Whether at home or abroad, British trade unions are going to have to come to understand and work with Chinese entrepreneurs and the AFCTU. If British trade unions want to change the Chinese record on human rights the Movement is going to have to engage in a dialogue with the Chinese community here and in China. The development of a truly free trade movement would see the removal of human rights abuses but that has to be done on China’s terms not imposing our notions of trade unions and freedom.