China’s labor landscape is changing, and it is transforming the global economy in ways that we cannot afford to ignore. Once-silent workers have found their voice, organizing momentous protests, such as the 2010 Honda strikes, and demanding a better deal. China’s leaders have responded not only with repression but with reforms. Are China’s workers on the verge of a breakthrough in industrial relations and labor law reminiscent of the American New Deal?
In A New Deal for China’s Workers? Cynthia Estlund views this changing landscape through the comparative lens of America’s twentieth-century experience with industrial unrest. China’s leaders hope to replicate the widely shared prosperity, political legitimacy, and stability that flowed from America’s New Deal, but they are irrevocably opposed to the independent trade unions and mass mobilization that were central to bringing it about. Estlund argues that the specter of an independent labor movement, seen as an existential threat to China’s one-party regime, is both driving and constraining every facet of its response to restless workers.
China’s leaders draw on an increasingly sophisticated toolkit in their effort to contain worker activism. The result is a surprising mix of repression and concession, confrontation and cooptation, flaws and functionality, rigidity and pragmatism. If China’s laborers achieve a New Deal, it will be a New Deal with Chinese characteristics, very unlike what workers in the West achieved in the last century. Estlund’s sharp observations and crisp comparative analysis make China’s labor unrest and reform legible to Western readers.
This highly readable story of the recent struggle of China’s workers for a better life, and the Communist Party’s complex responses to their demands, will surely meet the urgent need for greater understanding of this dynamic, non-transparent nation. Cynthia Estlund, a leading expert on American labor, has given us a balanced and sophisticated picture of China’s vastly different, rapidly changing labor scene. Like all great comparative studies, it also moves us to reconsider the accomplishments and drawbacks of our own government and even suggests what we might learn from the Chinese.
This eloquent account of the fundamental issues facing China’s workers, employers, and officials is an accessible but highly nuanced entrée to the world-historical drama unfolding in the PRC. Estlund has masterfully identified the essential economic, political, and legal dynamics that will determine the fate of the world’s largest and most restive working class.
For those who want to know more about the current status of labor in China, A New Deal for China’s Workers? is a must-read. Addressing labor issues in the United States and China, Estlund goes beyond the common view that workplaces in China are all sweatshops even as she questions China’s prospects for controlled liberalization of trade unions and labor NGOs. The results are enlightening and provocative.
This is a terrific, eye-opening book. Cynthia Estlund uses her expert knowledge of American labor history and law as a lens through which to examine the turbulent politically and economically fraught world in which hundreds of millions of Chinese workers press for dignity, democracy, and a better material life. From the most exploitative sweatshop to the highest levels of Chinese government and industry, Estlund offers superb guidance to all those puzzled by the near-insurrectionary struggles of the Chinese working class and by the regime’s capacity to channel, accommodate, and suppress this industrial revolt.
Cynthia Estlund provides the most sophisticated and in-depth look ever at China and Chinese workers and their ‘race to the rising bottom.’ Her analysis demonstrates that the Chinese leadership’s fear of an independent ‘organized labor’ movement as a greater threat than ‘organized capital’ or capitalism has actually motivated positive change for Chinese workers. The revealing comparisons of labor law, workplace democracy, and the role of unions between the U.S. and China is stunningly insightful, and will shatter your conventional ideas.
- 304 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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