• Latest News
  • Pitch a Story
  • Work with a Journalist
  • Join the Blog Squad
  • Afghanistan
  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Baltimore
  • Canada
  • Egypt
  • Europe
  • Latin America
  • Middle East
  • Russia
  • Economy
  • Environment
  • Health Care
  • Military
  • Occupy
  • Organize This
  • Reality Asserts Itself
  • US Politics

    Minqi Li: Wave of strikes for higher wages could become a political movement -   August 19, 10
    Members don't see ads. If you are a member, and you're seeing this appeal, click here


      Share to Twitter
    Share to Facebook

    I support the real news because they deal with real issues, not meaningless articles and sound bites - Gary
    Log in and tell us why you support TRNN


    Minqi Li is an associate professor of economics at the University of Utah. He is the author of The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World Economy (Pluto Press, 2009) and the editor of Red China Website (a leading Chinese leftist website).  Minqi Li has published many articles in the filed of political economy, the Chinese economy, global capitalist crisis, peak oil, and climate change.


    WILL CHINESE WORKERS CHALLENGE GLOBAL CAPITALISM?PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Hi. I'm Paul Jay, for The Real News Network in Washington. In China in June, leaders of the Chinese Communist Party said that it's time for workers' wages to go up. And there's been a lot of discussion about whether China's actually restructuring its economy to try to boost domestic demand. Certainly what leaders say, in other parts of the world, they want, and the G-20 declaration, and in various statements by President Obama, there's been a lot of pressure on China to try to increase demand not just for Chinese products, but for China to increase its imports of products from around the world. Now joining us to talk about a wave of worker strikes in China—because it seems the workers want higher wages, I think, whether or not anyone else is saying they should—is Minqi Li. He joins us from Utah, where he teaches at the university there. Minqi was a political prisoner in China from 1990 to 1992. And he taught at York University in Canada for a few years. He's—as I say, he's now at the University of Utah. His most recent book, The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World-Economy was published in 2009. Thanks for joining us, Minqi.


    JAY: So, first of all, tell us what's going on, as you know it, on the ground. I think you were in China just a few months ago. Is there a wave of worker strikes? And what is the impetus here?

    LI: Well, indeed there has been a wave of strikes that has been taking place in many foreign-owned factories, especially in the export-oriented sector. And in addition to that, there was a wave of strike that took place last year in the state-owned enterprises. And the combination of these waves, I think, probably would represent the beginning of a longer-term trend. So we know that for decades China's economic development has been based on the super-exploitation of the massive cheap labor pools. But that is about to come to an end. And, first of all, there has been this dramatic change in the population structure, so China's population is aging rapidly. So the portion of the labor force that is 30 years old or younger is likely to decline in the coming years.

    JAY: Now, just before we go further, let me just ask a couple of questions. First of all, when we talk about waves, are we talking hundreds of strikes? Thousands of strikes?

    LI: Well, you don't have exact statistics about this, but basically the news coverage of strikes have been dramatically increased.

    JAY: In terms of the demographic change, do the workers have more bargaining power now? And is part of that the one-child policy? Is there just not as fast a population growth as there might have been?

    LI: Well, historically, and while other countries have reached this kind of demographic change so that the surplus labor force has been depleted, and that has tended to increase workers' bargaining power, I'm expecting the same thing to happen in China. In addition to the demographic change that is likely to increase workers' bargaining power, another factor is that a new generation of workers, they now have high expectations. They want to live like urban residents. And so in a few years—and we are going to see the combination of these factors may result in more workers organizations and more militant workers activities, and that potentially could change China's income distribution.

    JAY: So to what extent is this being forced by the workers' struggles versus an actual plan by the Chinese Communist Party to try to increase incomes of the workers? I mean, they do claim to be the party that represents workers.

    LI: Well, they do claim. But I think, as far as the reality is concerned, the current waves of strikes and the current workers' struggle is probably 100 percent coming from workers' own initiative, although the central government has made repetitive statements about the desire to increase workers' wages. But so far it has not translated into actual action at the local level. And so, because the local bargaining primarily depends on the relationship between the workers and the local capitalists and the local governments—and the central government, it appears, does not have much direct influence on this.

    JAY: Apparently, in Guangdong there's a new initiative that was pushed by the workers' strikes there, where there—it's going to be—they're testing some new piece of legislation, if I understand it correctly, where workers—if more than 20 or 25 percent of the workers say they want a wage increase, then the union must organize an election of the workers to vote a negotiating committee, and prying some of the power out of the trade union leaders, who are usually either party representatives or at least, certainly, appointed by the party, and, apparently, often even appointed by management. Can you tell us a little more about all of that?

    LI: That has been discussed. But I think at this stage probably we should not be over-enthusiastic about formally democratically elected unions, because we don't know whether a genuine democratic election would take place, and even if that takes place, and whether that kind of elected union would be subject to the control by the employers or the government. I would put more hope on the spontaneous resistance organized by the workers from time to time.

    JAY: And how successful has it been in terms of actually raising wages?

    LI: Well, so far, despite the exciting news about these worker strikes, the immediate effect is limited. We have seen reports about a large increase in wages in some places in response to the strike. Later we heard—other reports were saying that capitalists are trying to get around the wage increases by cutting some benefits, cutting some other subsidies, moving the factories to the inner land with lower wages. So we need to wait and see. Okay. By the medium term and the longer term, I do see that the Chinese workers' bargaining power will increase.

    JAY: So to what extent can China make this transition people are talking about to a less export-led economy? And the fundamental asset of China for the last few decades has been cheap labor. I mean, are they actually in a position to make that transition now, which would also, I suppose, make them far less dependent on the American market and a little more immunized against the global crisis?

    LI: Well, that is a very good question. And we know that the Chinese economy has depended upon exports and investment. And now, with the American economy basically in stagnation, China could no longer rely upon the American market. And on the other hand, investment, that has surged to, like, 50 percent of China's GDP. And recently China has very much relied upon the real estate investment, and that potentially could lead to property bubbles, and then, if that collapses, which could have quite terrible consequences. And so China needs to have this transition into a more consumption-led economy. But the downside is that as China makes this transition, if that is going to take place through higher wages, higher purchasing power by the working people—. But the problem is that in a capitalist economy you have higher wages, and then you have less capitalist profits. So to really complete this transition, you need two additional conditions. One is that China needs to move to the technology front here in the global market. And secondly, China needs to overcome its energy and environmental crisis. And neither of the two is very easy.

    JAY: There's a lot of talk in the West about China and to some extent India being the saviors of the global economy. In fact, there's even been some talk that the elite in the United States don't even need the American market as much anymore; they're looking to make their investments and their profits in Asia, particularly China and India. I mean, is that realistic? The growth in Chinese workers' wages is going to have to increase pretty quickly to have that kind of effect.

    LI: Well, the latest news is that last month the US trade deficit unexpectedly surged by 20 percent. So I think it's too early to predict that the US is going to benefit a lot from the expansion of the Chinese market. And, certainly, as Chinese economy continue to grow, its imports will grow. But that primarily will increase China's demand for energy and raw materials. So that will benefit the Middle East, Russia, Latin America. And China will also increase demand for high technology capital goods. So far, that has primarily benefited countries like Germany or Japan. So whether US can get a share of that, we need to wait and see.

    JAY: Now, to what extent are these strike struggles political, if at all? In other words, on two fronts, one, questioning the power of the Communist Party, and two, is there—there must be a memory of at least the slogans of socialism in China. Is there any impetus towards a more real socialist type of economy? Or are the workers liking, more or less, this capitalist form?

    LI: Well, you have—the one thing we need to know about the Chinese working class is that it's still divided into, broadly speaking, two segments. On the one hand, you have the new workers, the migrant workers who had origin in the countryside and then recently moved to the cities to participate in the capitalism sector. And that is a part of the workers' strike that has been widely covered by the media for now. And then you have another major sector, which has to do with the urban working class, and whose parents used to work in the socialist state sector. And those workers have also organized some quite impressive struggles, especially anti-privatization struggles, in recent years. And that kind of struggle has been less covered. And it's the urban sector workers that is more political, actually, much more political compared to the migrant workers' struggles. And moreover the urban workers' struggle, because it's directly about anti-privatization, and so it is directly related to a desire to return to some form of socialist legacy. And on the other hand, I would say that the migrant workers for now remain politically inexperienced. But maybe after 5 or 10 years, and after they have gained more experience in organization, in actual struggle, and then maybe they would start to desire not only higher wages but also political rights.

    JAY: Okay. In the next segment of our interview let's talk about what's happening overall in the Chinese economy. I know in our last interview you were questioning just how real the Chinese, you could say, resistance to the global financial crisis was, how much this was a stimulus bubble. So in the next segment of our interview, let's just talk about where things are at in China. Please join us on The Real News Network.

    End of Transcript

    DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


    Our automatic spam filter blocks comments with multiple links and multiple users using the same IP address. Please make thoughtful comments with minimal links using only one user name. If you think your comment has been mistakenly removed please email us at


    Latest Stories

    The Modern History of Venezuela and Popular Democracy - Edgardo Lander on RAI (9/9)
    An Asia "Pivot" Should Mean Cooperating with China to Solve the Global Environmental Crisis
    Assessing the U.S. Environmental Movement
    Intimidation and Political Interference Goes Unpunished in UAW Case
    Exclusive Investigation Uncovers How BP Uses Bribes To Do Business
    The Modern History of Venezuela, The Protests and Democracy - Edgardo Lander on RAI (8/9)
    Greek Politics 4 Years After The Financial Crisis
    CBO Report Confirms U.S. Deficit Back to Normal Level
    Israel Uses Refugees as "Currency" in Arms Trade with Africa
    Who Will Pay for Climate Change Disaster?
    Canada Shifts to Right Under Harper, Mimicking the United States
    The Savings and Loan Crisis Demonstrates the Importance of Glass-Steagall
    South African Platinum Miner's Struggle Challenges ANC Leadership
    TRNN Original Report: Manning Determined to Fight Back After Army Upholds 35- Year Sentence
    Hundredth Anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre
    The Bundy Ranch Standoff Demonstrates Values Shared by Corporations and the Far Right
    The Resegregation of American Schools
    The Modern History of Venezuela, Why Still So Much Crime? - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (7/9)
    What Role Has Russia Played in Eastern Ukraine?
    Can Johns Hopkins Afford to Pay A Living Wage? (2/2)
    University Sit-In Targets World's Largest Private Coal Company
    The Modern History of Venezuela and the Need for a Post-Oil Economy - Edgardo Lander on RAI (6/9)
    Can Johns Hopkins Afford to Pay A Living Wage? (1/2)
    One Percent of Environmentalists Killings Lead to Convictions
    Investigation Finds Former Ukraine President Not Responsible For Sniper Attack on Protestors
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1973 to the Caracazo Massacre - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (3/9)
    Ukraine Transitional Gov't Moves Militarily To Reclaim Seized Buildings
    IPCC Report Flawed By Narrow Focus on Carbon Emissions
    The Modern History of Venezuela: The Bolivarian Revolution - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (5/9)
    Obama Signs Directives to Reduce the Gender Wage Gap
    Eastern Ukraine Lacks Political Representation in Kiev
    Demystifying the Role of Mitigation in the Most Recent IPCC Report
    Hypersurveillance State Won't Prevent Another Boston Marathon Bombing
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1973 to the Caracazo Massacre - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (3/9)
    Univ. of Maine Faculty Reinstated After Students Protest Against Cuts
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1908 to 1973 - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (2/9)
    IMF Will Address Global Inequality, Says Managing Director Christine Lagarde
    Raising Big Banks' Leverage Ratio Good, But Not Nearly Enough
    TRNN Replay: Austerity Road to 19th Century
    Has Palestinian Maneuvering Revived Peace Talks?
    Late Jackson Mayor Lumumba's Son Wins Primary to Replace His Father, Runoff Election Ahead
    Quebecers Reject PQ and Elect a Liberal Government Representing Big Business
    TRNN Debate: Decriminalization vs. Legalization
    The Beginning of the Chavez Era - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (4/9)
    "Off With His Head": Court Upholds Obama's Power to Kill
    Workers at Nation's Top Hospital Strike For Fair Wages
    From Exile to Radicalization in Venezuela - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (1/9)
    Rwanda 20 Years Later: Genocide, Western Plunder of Congo, and President Kagame
    Ukrainian Protesters in the East Demand More Autonomy From Kiev Government
    Hunger Strikers Demand President Obama Halt His Record 2 Million Deportations
    Indian Parliamentary Elections - A Primer With Vijay Prashad
    West Looks to Carve Up Ukraine & Privatize Industries Held by Kleptocrats
    Where Are Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations Headed?
    The Multiple Kingdoms of Saudi Arabia (5/5)
    Do the Afghan Presidential Elections Signify Progress?
    Republican Presidential Hopefuls Pay Homage to Billionaire Casino Tycoon Sheldon Adelson
    Will Extremist Lieberman Become Israel's Next Prime Minister?
    Why do the Saudis Want the US to Attack Iran? (4/5)
    Immigrant Advocates and Families Tell President Obama 'Not One More'
    Elections, Pipelines, and Protests - The Canada Panel
    Chris Hedges on "Israel's War on American Universities"
    Baltimore Residents Decry Lack of Affordable Housing
    Yellen Talks the Talk But Will She Walk the Walk?
    Hopkins Hospital Workers Speak Out against "Poverty Wages"
    Will Venezuela's New Floating Exchange Rate Curb Inflation?
    The European Central Bank's War on Wages is Pushing Europe's Economy to the Brink
    Supreme Court Decision Opens Floodgates for More Campaign Cash
    Charles Keating, the Financier Behind the Savings and Loan Scandal, Dies at 90
    Saudi Arabia and the al-Qaeda Monster (3/5)
    Maryland Residents Voice Opposition to Natural Gas Fracking Export Facility
    Supreme Court Ruling Gives Wealthy Individuals More Influence Over Elections
    What are the Saudis Afraid Of? - Madawi Al-Rasheed (2/5)
    Baltimore's MICA Adjunct Professors Set to Vote on Unionization
    Boycott of Israel Moving to Next Level?
    Hypocrisy Dressed Up as "Realism" Justifies American Alliance with Saudi Dictatorship
    Immigration Reform in the Shadows of Cesar Chavez's Legacy
    Leaked Senate Report Shows Use of Torture As "Ineffective"
    UN Report Says Climate Change Will Threaten Food Production Worldwide
    The Hypocrisy of US Calling for Enforcement of International Law
    How the Ecuadorian Economy Grew in a Global Recession
    'Shadows of Liberty' Trailer
    Kristina Borjesson on Why CBS Shut Down Her investigation into Flight 800 (2/8)
    Glen Ford on Racism in the American Media (3/8)
    Paul Jay on What Drives Corporate Media and What Drive The Real News (4/8)
    Creating a New Media Paradigm After Citizens United (5/8)
    Should The Left Engage with the Mainstream Media? (6/8)
    What Is the Financial Backing For The Real News? (7/8)
    Standing up to Character Assassination (8/8)
    Oligarchs, Fascists and the People's Protest in Ukraine
    TRNN Debate: Is Obamacare In the Interest of Workers?
    Too-Big-To-Fail Advantage Remains Intact For Big Banks
    Obama and the Saudi Agenda
    TRNN Replay: Investigating the Saudi Government's 9/11 Connection and the Path to Disilliusionment - Sen. Graham on Reality Asserts Itself pt 1
    The Iraq War's Real Legacy
    Petitions with 100,000+ Signatures Call for Snowden's Passport to be Reinstated
    We Need to Harness People Power - Andy Shallal on Reality Asserts Itself (4/4)
    BC Pipeline Fight and Quebec Elections - The Canada Panel
    Jonathan Schell - 1943-2014: Board Member of TRNN on Why We Need The Real News
    Teachers on Strike from the UK to Argentina
    Connecticut Poised to Become First State with $10.10 Minimum Wage
    Oil Spill Threatens Wildlife and Local Economy
    DC School Test Scores Up, But Poor Black Kids Are Doing Worse - Andy Shallal on RAI (3/4)
    Obama's Proposal To End NSA Bulk Data Collection Won't Protect Privacy
    How Google, Apple & The Biggest Tech Companies Colluded to Fix Workers' Wages
    An American Should be One that Questions Their Government - Andy Shallal on RAI (2/4)
    What's Driving Putin & Obama's Posturing on Ukraine?
    Hundreds of Students & Faculty Occupy College Campus to Fight Cuts to Public Higher Ed
    Due Process 'Impossible' In Harsh Death Sentencing Of Over 500 Muslim Brotherhood Members
    Has Anglo-American Capitalism Run Out of Steam?
    Being the "Other" in America - Andy Shallal on Reality Asserts Itself (1/4)
    TRNN Debate: Should Baltimore 'Ban The Box'?
    How Fallujah Became the Iraqi Government's New Battleground
    Why I Decided to Blow the Whistle on the NSA
    NASA Climate Predictions Show Serious Threat To Humanity
    Professor Who Teaches Israel-Palestine Conflict Accuses College of Violating His Academic Freedom
    CIA and NSA Wrongdoing Requires Independent Investigation, Says Former Church Committee Staff
    Are Tuition Breaks Enough To Combat High Student Debt And Low Graduation Rates?
    Industries Across the U.S. Are Stealing Wages From Their Lowest Paid Workers
    Who In Ukraine Will Benefit From An IMF Bailout?
    NSA Recording All International Calls From U.S.
    Israel "Making Lives Miserable" for Africans, Hoping They 'Self-Deport' (2/2)
    BP Gets Green Light to Drill in Gulf, But Has Safety Improved?
    Residents Still Not Drinking Tap Water Two Months After West Virginia Spill (1/2)
    Libya's Descent Into Turmoil Three Years After NATO Intervention
    From Pipelines to Peladeau - Canadian Report
    Israel "Making Lives Miserable" for Africans, Hoping They 'Self-Deport' (1/2)
    Congressional Progressive Caucus Budget Strikes Back Against Austerity
    Libya Three Years Later - Chaos and Partition
    Why Was Gaddafi Overthrown?
    Should Ukraine and West Accept De Facto Crimea Joining Russia? (2/2)
    Tony Benn Saw Socialism as the Culmination of Democratization
    Why Didn't Bush/Cheney Attack Iran and Can Obama Make and Sell a Deal? - Gareth Porter on Reality Asserts Itself (3/3)
    After Late Mayor Lumumba is Laid to Rest, What's Next for Jackson, Mississippi? (2/2)
    Crimea Referendum: Self Determination or Big Power Manipulation? (1/2)
    Sen. Graham: President Must Side with Openness About CIA and 9/11
    Manufacturing a Narrative for War - Gareth Porter on Reality Asserts Itself (2/3)
    Protesters Hit the Streets of Brooklyn to Demand $15 Minimum Wage
    Hammer: 'Moral Bankruptcy' Behind Massive GM Recall
    White House Withholds Thousands of Documents from Senate CIA Probe
    I Grew Up Believing in Time Magazine's Version of America - Gareth Porter on RAI (1/3)
    Western European Banks Vulnerable to Ukrainian Sovereign Debt Crisis
    TRNN Debate: What's Driving Inflation in Venezuela? (2/2)
    CIA vs. Senate: Who Is Obama Protecting?
    Will Tipped Workers Get Excluded Again From Minimum Wage Hike?
    TRNN Debate: What's Driving Inflation in Venezuela? (1/2)
    After Late Mayor Lumumba is Laid to Rest, What's Next for Jackson, Mississippi?(1/2)
    TRNN Replay: A Look at Who's Poised to Become No.2 at the Fed
    How Right-Wing Nationalism Rose to Influence in Ukraine (2/2)
    Netanyahu Attacks Boycott As Campaign Enters New Phase
    Moving Towards a Police State - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (7/7)
    Fighting Reagan's Secret, Illegal Wars - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (6/7)
    Puerto Rican Independence Movement and Cuba Further Radicalized Me - Michael Ratner on RAI (5/7)
    The Butcher of Attica - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (4/7)
    MLK and a Radicalizing Moment in American History - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (3/7), Real News Network, Real News, Real News For Real People, IWT are trademarks and service marks of IWT.TV inc. "The Real News" is the flagship show of IWT and Real News Network.

    All original content on this site is copyright of The Real News Network.  Click here for more

    Problems with this site? Please let us know

    Linux VPS Hosting by Star Dot Hosting