Chinese repression a brake on US recovery

Published on ZNet, by Roger Bybee, November 23, 2009.

“We cannot go back,” President Barack Obama said in September, “to an era where the Chinese…just are selling everything to us, we’re taking out a bunch of credit-card debt or home equity loans, but we’re not selling anything to them.”

If only that were true …

… REPRESSION:  While China has kept any Tiananmen Square-sized demonstrations from breaking out, it has continued to suppress independent unionism with firings and arrests. Moreover, it has used its-U.S. assisted technological prowess to convert China into the society with the heaviest surveillance via closed-circuit video cameras and Internet monitoring designed to quash dissent, as Naomi Klein recounted just before the generally positive gush of publicity about the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

China’s rulers, faced with a surge of sponataneous strikes, attempted to co-opt the worker discontent by enacting a new set of labor rights. However, this was not well received by U.S. corporations, as the New York Times reported:

China is planning to adopt a new law that seeks to crack down on sweatshops and protect workers’ rights by giving labor unions real power for the first time since it introduced market forces in the 1980’s.

The move, which underscores the government’s growing concern about the widening income gap and threats of social unrest, is setting off a battle with American and other foreign corporations that have lobbied against it by hinting that they may build fewer factories here. …

Whether the foreign corporations will follow through on their warnings is unclear because of the many advantages of being in China — even with restrictions and higher costs that may stem from the new law. China’s economy has become one of the most robust in the world since the emphasis on free markets in the 80’s encouraged millions of young workers to labor for low wages at companies that made cheap exports. As a result, foreign investment has poured into China….

Hoping to head off some of the rules, representatives of some American companies are waging an intense lobbying campaign to persuade the Chinese government to revise or abandon the proposed law.

The skirmish has pitted the American Chamber of Commerce — which represents corporations including Dell, Ford, General Electric, Microsoft and Nike — against labor activists and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Communist Party’s official union organization.

The workers’ advocates say that the proposed labor rules — and more important, enforcement powers — are long overdue, and they accuse the American businesses of favoring a system that has led to widespread labor abuse.

So despite Americans’ parlous economic plight, China’s repression continues to make it a magnet for U.S. corporations discarding U.S. workers and relocating to China.

It is hard to envision a way out of the current job-destroying recession without confronting this fundamental fact of U.S. economic life, and the lack of genuine democracy in America that it reflects. (full text).

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