As automotive strikes spread, Honda components plant “experiments” with workplace democracy

Workers at a second Toyota plant in Tianjin went on strike on Thursday 17 June, causing production to be suspended. Talks between workers and management at Toyota Gosei Co. over wage demands continued Friday, a management spokesman said.

A brief strike at Toyota’s steering wheel manufacturer in Tianjin earlier on 15 June ended when management agreed to consider workers’ demands for higher pay. However, several workers at Tianjin Star Light Rubber and Plastic have expressed dissatisfaction with the pace of negotiations and are threatening to strike again if their demands are not met.

Another Honda supplier also reportedly went out on strike Thursday afternoon. Around 240 welders at Wuhan Auto Parts Alliance walked out around 1.pm demanding an increase in wages and benefits of nearly 800 yuan per month. Workers demanded an increase in their basic wage of 300 yuan a month, an increase in their housing subsidy from 300 yuan to 500 yuan a month, and an increase in the nightshift subsidy from seven yuan to 15 yuan per shift. Workers have refused to return to work until their demands are met.

At Honda Lock in Zhongshan, negotiations dragged on between workers and management, with workers vowing to renew their strike if management does not improve on its current offer of a 20 percent increase in pay and benefits.

Meanwhile, the trade union at the Honda components plant in Foshan, which did nothing to help workers in their successful strike action last month, is to be reformed and its leaders democratically elected by the employees, a senior Guangdong union official has said.

Kong Xianghong, vice-chair of the Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions pointed out that many union chairs in foreign funded enterprises were in reality appointed by management. In order to strengthen workplace democracy at the Honda plant, Kong said, not only should the union chair be democratically elected by the members, they should also be subject to an annual performance review. The union chair would need to obtain an approval rating of more than 50 percent in order to remain in his post, he said.

Kong claimed the review system had been trialed at several Guangdong factories over the last year, and would be promoted at factories across the province during the course of this year.

CLB has long argued that democratically elected trade unions are only the first step. The union should be democratically run and officials accountable to the membership. The Guangdong federation’s proposal for an annual review of enterprise union chairs is clearly a step in the right direction. However, for the system to be effective, the annual assessment will have to be transparent, involve the entire union membership, and the results will have to be binding.
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