Political Economy of State-Labor Relations in Contemporary China
My book project is an attempt to examine the evolution of state-labor relations in the post-reform China by focusing on labor protests of domestic migrants. The study seeks to answer three interrelated questions about the evolution of labor politics in China: (1) Why has the number of labor protests increased dramatically in the post-reform era despite the regime's strong coercive capacity? (2) Why has the Chinese regime's labor management strategy, particularly in regards to migrant labor, evolved away from overt repression to incorporation since the mid-2000s? (3) Why have the factories that provide relatively better working conditions been more prone to experience labor protests? In answering these questions, this research project aims to draw implications of the growing number of labor protests for the regime's long-term political resilience.
This project argues that the Chinese regime in contemporary era is different from other non-democracies in its labor management strategy because it neither adopts the traditional "market" type of labor management (i.e. overt repression) nor state corporatism. Instead, the regime's strategy has moved toward what this project labels as "Atomized Incorporation," in which the state incorporates workers as individuals but not as a class. In addition to introducing a series of labor laws since the mid-2000s as well as incorporating migrant labor as part of the ACFTU's official constituency and the National Congress, one key part of atomized incorporation has been to tolerate - and even support - individual factories' labor protests. Such change has been accompanied by constant repression on labor activists and NGOs staffs who might turn the atomized labor protests into a class-based mobilization.
Drawing on both qualitative and quantitative evidence gathered during an eighteen month field research in the Pearl River and Yangtze River Delta Area -- the two most industrialized regions in China -- my research demonstrates that as a result of the changes in the labor market and the pursuit of new development goals, the state has tolerated workplace-based protests. Such strategy has worked even at the local level in developed coastal regions despite the local governments' desire to attract investment because the local governments no longer rely on labor-incentive sectors for tax revenues. Instead, the local government officials have used labor protests as a tool to discipline investors in low-skilled industries.