Full Project Description

Globalisation, national transformation and workers’ rights: An analysis of Chinese labour within the global economy (ESRC Standard Grant: RES-062-23-2777, £275k)

Project rationale
The current restructuring in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) including the emergence of capitalist social relations of production is of phenomenal importance to the global economy. In China, millions of workers are added to the global workforce alone. The Chinese economy, for decades isolated from the world market, is increasingly becoming integrated into the global economy. This is reflected in China’s membership of the WTO in 2001, where it completed the transition to full market economy status on 31 December 2008. Chinese production has become integrated in the international division of labour with many products being assembled in China for sale in the European and North American markets. At the same time, the Chinese state still maintains a tight control of political and economic developments within the country. China’s most important resource is cheap labour, including 120 million migrant workers (Tiejun, 2008: 81), and arguably workers are most under pressure as a result. On the one hand, Chinese workers often work in conditions of super-exploitation. Considering the impact of the current global crisis on Chinese manufacturing (Hung, 2008) and the related job losses (Branigan, 2008), this situation has been further aggravated. On the other, workers elsewhere either become unemployed, because production is moved to the PRC, or they are pressured into accepting lower wages and worse working conditions through the threat of production transfer to China. This project aims at analysing the role of Chinese labour within these structural changes at the production, national and international level. In particular, it will be investigated to what extent civil society organisations of labour, trade unions and NGOs, have been able to protect the interests of Chinese workers within the Chinese form of state as well as through co-operation with international labour organisations. The project will, thus, directly contribute to address the following challenge, which the ESRC identified on page 5 of its Strategic Plan for 2009-2914: ‘The impacts of globalisation, both in the short run as demand falls and job losses escalate, and in the longer term if and when growth increases again (with parallel shifts in demand and supply if the economies of countries such as China and India continue their high levels of growth).’ Read full proposal …



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