A recent wave of labour strike in China has attracted local and foreign media's attention. While local media has been harmonized by the propaganda department in order to stop workers from copying each others’ spontaneous protests, foreign media, such as The New York Times, believe that it is a beginning of a labour movement for independent labour union.
It is probably too soon to announce the coming of independent labour union, however, the recent strikes do have some distinctively new feature, which comes along with the rise of a new subjectivity. Many say that the suicides and the protests are the post 80's generation's discontents.
Huang Qian-hong, a Twitterer in his mid-twenties, describes himself as post 80 rural worker. In fact he had three-year working experience in FoxConn and four years in Honda, both companies has been facing worker protest, the former by consecutive suicides, the latter by strike. He compared the working conditions between the two companies via twitter back in May:
Japanese are more modest in China as the Chinese government usually will not indulge their business because of nationalistic sentiment against Japanese.
In FoxConn, my salary had never exceeded 3000 yuan, in Honda my highest salary had never exceeded 8000 and lowest salary never below 2000 yuan. Honda is much better than FoxConn.
The maximum overtime working in FoxConn is up to 120 hours while in Honda, it never exceeded 36 hours.
FoxConn wants you to work 24 hours a day, while Honda does not want their worker to work overtime.
Workers cannot work for long in FoxConn, while Honda workers seldom resign.
FoxConn only has very few holiday around Lunar New Year, many workers do not have day off during the Lunar New Year, some have not returned home for years. This is considered as normal. Under such environment, people will definitely be sick. They don't have intimate space to address their emotional problem.
In Honda, there will be 8-9 days off during Lunar New Year and 7 days off during May day and National day. In August, usually there will be 9 days hot weather breaks. All these are paid holidays. Workers have the chance to pay home visit every year. The Japanese workers also have to return home. For the Japanese, the management and the workers have the same need, so every one can have day off to go home.
In early June, a FoxConn worker died from exhaustion and Huang explained:
Huang在 富士康8点上班，20点下班。从工厂到宿舍要30分钟，回去洗澡洗衣服要1个小时。8个人一间房，洗澡要排队。等大家都洗涮完大概就23点了，然后躺在床 上聊聊天，一般都要到凌晨才睡觉，第二天7点起床，又开始一天的工作。这就是富士康员工的生存状态，常年累月睡眠不够，是很容易猝死的。
In FoxConn, you have to start working at 8 am and the work ends at 8 pm. Then it takes 30 mins to walk back to the dorm and 1 hour to have shower and wash your clothes. There are 8 people in the room, you have to line up for your turn. When everyone is done, it is about 11pm. Then people would lie down in the dark and talk, falling asleep around 12 am and wake up at 7am the next morning. This is everyday life for FoxConn workers, it is so easy to die from exhaustion.
Huang decided to return home to Hunan last year despite the fact that he made a rather good income in Honda factory because:
My personal reasons are: 1. Changsha's economy has been developing very fast in the past few years, there are more and more corporates moving here and they are paying higher than the Pearl River Delta area. Some technology workers, they only earn around 2400 per month in Pearl Delta. Here, if they manage to get into famous mechanical factory, they can have more than 5000 per month. It is easier to find job in Changsha as well.
Huang:二、 结婚生子后，老婆就一直在家带小孩，夫妻两地分居。她娘家人和我家人都希望我回家工作，两夫妻生活在一起。小孩由自己带也比较放心。和家人生活在一起，有 什么事也可以在吃饭的时候，说一说，让精神得到放松。特别是家里有老人，他们可以帮忙解开很多心中的困惑。我爷爷奶奶都在世，经常给我鼓励
2. After marriage and giving birth to our child, my wife stay home and we had been living apart. Both of our family wish me to get back home and live together as husband and wife. It is better to take care of my own kid and live with my family. We can chat at dinner table and relax our tension from work. Especially when you have older people at home, they can solve so much problem. My grandpa and grandma give me a lot of spiritual support.
Huang:三、 农村有自己的宅基地，自建了300多平米的住房，别墅。建设成本400多元一平方米（包括简单的装修）。到长沙市区1小时车程，不要买房子，只要买辆车子 就行了。而且周围的邻居都差不多，很少有外地人，治安很好。有几家邻居是千万富翁(做花木生意）。我也在家里种了一点花木。
3. We have our own land in the rural area to build our own house. Our house is about 300 square meters and the construction fee is 400 yuan (50 USD) per square meter. It takes 1 hours to Changsha city, so I don't have to buy a house there, a car is good enough. We have a good neighborhood and it is very safe to live here. Some of my neighbors are millionaire because of their planting business. We also plant some trees in our land.
Huang:四、 广州污染太严重，患上了慢性咽喉炎，无药可治，只能到空气好的地方慢慢调养。在广州每个月感冒两次上以，人浑身没劲。早上起床刷牙呕吐到眼泪都出来。旁边 的工厂，每天凌晨两点左右会排气味很难闻的废气，更加重了我的病情。空闲的时候，无处可去，只能在出租屋里上网，感觉生命在虚渡
4. The pollution in Guangzhou is very serious and I suffered from throat infection. It could be cure and I had to move in order to adjust my body back to health condition. In Guangzhou, I got sick twice every month, in those days I threw out like hell every morning. The factory next to my dormitory would emit some strange gas after mid night which worsen my condition. When I were free, I had no where to go except from going online in rental house. Felt like wasting my life.
Huang: 六、 我父母在家旁边的工厂做事，一年收入也有3～4万。如果我回家找不到工作，由父母养着这个家庭也没有问题。现在也是父母当家，我自己挣的钱，只要养小孩。 我父亲才50岁，还可以再当十年家。我有一个从小玩到大的朋友，这三四年发财了，开辆JEEP 4.7L的汽车。他表示随时可以帮助我。
6. My parent work in a factory back home. Their annual income is around 3-40,000 yuan. Even if I can't find any job, they can support this family without any problem. Till now, my parent are the economic pillar of the family, I only have to support my own kid. My father is only 50 year old, he can work 10 more years. I have a playmate who becomes rich in the past few years and he is willing to help me.
The number of workers has been reducing in Pearl River Delta in the past few years. When I entered FoxConn in 2001, I had to pay 800 in order to enter the factory. In 2005, they stopped charging the worker entrance fee. Now, they have to pay those workers (80 yuan) who introduce newbies to the factory. However, workers now have a very bad impression of Pearl River Delta, and such impression cannot be changed easily. Not so many people are willing to work there.
Turn left for paradise, and turn right for Shenzhen. The Pearl River Delta is a very sad place for workers. Many lose their girlfriends because of poverty, many see their girlfriend becomes Hong Kong and Taiwan's businessmen’ mistresses. Such defeated feelings would twist their mind.
Back in 2007, when he was 22, Huang Qian-hong wrote an article reflecting on his life as a rural worker. Recently he re-posted the article to his blog. Below is a tiny excerpt:
What am I?
How come when I work, I feel like a monkey performing for others?
How come when I smile, people give me a cold look?
How come my friend say I am good in every aspect, except that I don't have money?
How come the girl who I like, she doesn't even look at me?
How come people don't care a damn about my face?
How come I become so tired when I was 19, as if I would die any time?
How come I dare not expose my emotion to others?
How people around me look at me?
What kind of people am I?