CLB sends out a dedicated newsletter to our subscribers each month that focuses on the most recent trends and developments in worker activism and work safety in China.

Different contexts, similar solutions: solidarity with workers everywhere

11 May 2022

On International Workers’ Day, CLB published a new report on the story of one union in Bangalore, India, practising collective bargaining through the global pandemic. Told through the eyes of worker representatives and union organisers at the Karnataka Garment Workers Union (KOOGU), the union’s roadmap of how to organise workers at the factory level for sustainable change is a roadmap for workers anywhere and everywhere to start reclaiming their bargaining power. 

One worker named Tayamma described how becoming active in the union changed her: “[Before] I only knew how to cry. I never dared to speak in front of the management. With every meeting I attended, I learnt to speak up and today I don’t keep quiet about any injustice to workers in my factory.” CLB previously profiled Tayamma in a story published in April 2021, and she is one of a dozen workers interviewed for our 40-page report on KOOGU’s collective bargaining efforts at two factories, Shahi Unit 8 and Texport Apparels. 

In international solidarity with Amazon workers in the U.S., CLB analysed the successful approach of the first union at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York. We note that although the U.S. has many strong and active long-standing unions, workers at the JFK8 warehouse organised independently and took a personal and community-based approach by holding potlucks and providing support that the corporation could not offer, even as the company spent $4.3 million in anti-union efforts last year. In CLB’s experience working in more restrictive environments, often without the legal right to independently organise and other systemic barriers, worker-led initiatives are still possible and can be successful. Global solidarity and recognising common challenges and solutions are key. 

Indeed, many workers in China are facing new challenges and taking to the internet with the stories of their working conditions as they test, treat, and supply the populations of cities under Covid-19 lockdown. 

“We’re a forgotten corner,” said one construction worker who helped build a hospital in Shanghai. While many residents are locked in their homes, medical workers, food delivery workers, transport workers, and others are going without bare necessities: sleep, food, shelter, water, and PPE. We have found that as the labour rights of these workers are more precarious than ever, ignoring these workers’ needs also works against the strict lockdown policies and endangers the public.

While some areas of China are in lockdown, many areas of the country are operating with business-as-usual, including the deadly industry of coal mining. A CLB investigation into a series of explosions at coal mines in Guizhou provinces reveals that mines were hastily reopened in a tug-of-war between reduced reliance on coal and the country’s energy crisis that escalated in late 2021. Without proper safety measures in place, robust administrative measures to ensure compliance, or a trade union that does its duty to supervise safety at the workplace level, the types of accidents that took 22 lives in Guizhou early this year are likely to continue. 

Thank you for subscribing to our monthly newsletter. Please also be sure to check out our new Labour News Roundup of top domestic news stories about workers and labour in China. The April 2022 edition is available here

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