The International Handbook of Labour Unions
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The International Handbook of Labour Unions

Responses to Neo-Liberalism

Edited by Gregor Gall, Adrian Wilkinson and Richard Hurd

Since the 1970s, the spread of neo-liberalism across the world has radically reconfigured the relationship between unions, employers and the state. The contributors highlight that this is the major cause and effect of union decline and if there is to be any union revitalisation and return to former levels of influence, then unions need to respond in appropriate political and practical ways. Written in a clear and accessible style, the Handbook examines unions’ efforts to date in many of the major economies of the world, providing foundations for understanding each country.
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Chapter 7: Unions in China in a Period of Marketisation

Fang Lee Cooke


Fang Lee Cooke INTRODUCTION Existing studies on Chinese unions have mostly been critical of the AllChina Federation of Unions (ACFTU) – the only union that is recognised by the Chinese government. The ACFTU is one of the eight ‘mass organisations’ (non-government organisations) in China that operate under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It has been heavily criticised for its institutionally incapacitated position and operational inefficacy (Clarke 2005; O’Leary 1998; Taylor et al. 2003; and others). What has been the response of the ACFTU in the process of China’s marketisation informed by neo-liberalism? This chapter addresses this question by first providing a brief historical overview of the transformation of the Chinese economic policy and structure since 1978 that has witnessed the radical state sector reform and the emergence of the market economy. We then review the impact of marketisation on two major groups of Chinese workers: the stateowned enterprise (SOE) workers and the rural migrant workers. In the third main section, we critically evaluate the attitude and role of the ACFTU in response to the changing nature of employment relations in the state sector and the poor working conditions of workers in the private and foreignfunded firms. We do so in view of the political and resource constraints of the ACFTU. We also investigate new initiatives and modes of organising from the ACFTU in response to the new dynamics of employment relations and the rising level of labour disputes, notably in the export-oriented manufacturing sector. Tensions inherent in the...

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