Kevin Doyle Blog

Writing and activism

To Hell With Safety … in China

with 4 comments

Had to put up these photos taken on the way home from Auz in January. They are of a building site in the Wan Chai area of Hong Kong – now a part of  the People’s Republic of China.  Being a visitor I was well impressed by the skyline and the ultra-tall skyscrapers.

In the area I was staying I came across this huge building site.  The main structure, already in place, was encased in this elaborate net of bamboo scaffolding. Impressive in terms of its complexity and scale.  However close inspection revealed that the structure was being held together with plastic ties, no less.   I mean, take a look at the close-ups.  The dark ages, let’s face it.   I’m sure a safety engineer would quickly explain how a contraption such as this is just an accident waiting to happen.   The site workers are vulnerable but so are the people living around the site who pass by and under the structure each day.

I’m guessing that concern for the construction workers and for the local community is fairly low down on the priority scale when measured against the insatiable desire to make money in such a fast growing economy.

Taking a closer look at this I discovered that safety violations are nothing unusual on the China mainland.  One recent and notorious case was that of China’s flagship ‘high-speed’ rail line system.  There have been serious and fatal derailments and in one case the rail line itself collapsed.  A report noted that: 

Engineers working on some projects have complained of problems with contractors using inferior concrete or inadequate steel support bars. A report last week by the state-run magazine Time Weekly reported allegations that builders on another section of the same Wuhan-Yichang line may have compromised safety by substituting soil for rocks in the railway bed.

This is no exception.  In the chemical and mining industries there are widespread abuses.  One report put the number of deaths from industrial accidents at 200 per day!

Independent Unions

The major advances that were made in Europe and the US on safe working standards were of course made by workers fighting for safe and better working conditions.   [Take for example with the curse of abestosis where it was the asbosteos workers who led the way in the fight for safety and compensation.]  Sometimes we think that it is the other way around but not so.  In almost all of the significant cases it is workers who have driven the demand for safe workplaces and working conditions.  Of course to win such demands the key factor is the ability of workers to organise for themselves .  In other words workers must win the struggle to form and organise independent unions which can give muscle and force to their demands.

Independent unions are the very thing that are most absent in today’s China.  The abomination that is the Chinese Communist Party – with its millionaires and brutal authoritarian methods – disallows any such rights.  But wary of the  desire and needs of workers the CCP has set up a trade union structure of its own that it ‘allows’.   This union – The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) – is a hollow shell made up of careerists and party yes men.

The real struggles of workers to establish independent and strong organisations of their own goes on elsewhere.  To find out more about this  then you could no better than look at the web site and publications of China Labour Bulletin.  They recently issued a new report about the struggles of workers in China.  In this they point out the improved militancy of Chinese workers and in particular the import role being played by young migrant workers:

 The workers’ movement in China has been galvanized and invigorated over the last three years by a new generation of migrant workers. They are demanding better pay and working conditions, and are refusing to tolerate the exploitation and discrimination their parents had to endure. These young activists have not only won noticeable concessions from their employers, they have also forced the government and trade unions to reassess their labour and social policies.

The report highlights that Chinese workers are now becoming more proactive, they are getting better at organising, and they are winning more of the struggles that they engage in.  All in that this is very hopeful and encouraging news.

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4 Responses

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  1. Looks bad but bamboo scaffolding is something of an art form here in Hong Kong. I can’t say whether it’s better or worse than other types of scaffolding but it would seem that the ties shown in the photo conform to the safety standards laid down by HK Government – look at points (i) and (j) on page 26 of http://www.labour.gov.hk/eng/public/os/B/Bamboo.pdf

    I couldn’t agree more that independent unions are needed in mainland China and the safety standards are shocking in many cases but there are unions in Hong Kong and they’re always taking on employers over various issues. I feel a little offended when people use the words ‘dark ages’ to describe aspects of life in Hong Kong. Yes, it’s very different to the West but that does not mean it is backwards. There’s so much anti-China stuff in the western media – this writer seems to be part of that wider trend albeit applying a little left wing gloss to distance himself slightly.

    Paul D

    June 1, 2012 at 5:11 am

  2. Interesting and alarming news here on the general crack down on worker organising within the Hong Kong region. The regime is terrified of course. Important to spread the word and let more people know that workers in China have as much to stuggle against and for as workers anywhere else on this planet.

    http://www.labourstartcampaigns.net/show_campaign.cgi?c=1603&src=lsmm

    kfdoyle

    October 12, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    • Good on you for highlighting the tough conditions workers organisations face but do you realise the article is About mainland China not Hong Kong? I don’t mean to be rude but you need to be check your facts before you write.

      Paul D

      October 12, 2012 at 10:50 pm

      • No problem Paul and thanks. I guess it will still make for value reading. Hopefully.

        kfdoyle

        October 13, 2012 at 10:47 am


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