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Shades of Solidarinosc: Chinese Auto Workers Strike, Want Independent Labor Union

Shades of 1980-era Poland, when Solidarity helped form a large strike at Gdansk and, later, across Poland, in order to demand concessions from the communist state: they wanted to form an independent trade union (independent from the state, that is).  They were smart, well-disciplined, and well-organized against a state used to strikes and labor unrest.

And now, 2010 China:

ZHONGSHAN, China — Striking workers at a Honda auto parts plant here are demanding the right to form their own labor union, something officially forbidden in China, and held a protest march Friday morning.  Meanwhile, other scattered strikes have begun to ripple into Chinese provinces previously untouched by the labor unrest.

A near doubling of wages is the primary goal of the approximately 1,700 Honda workers on strike here in this southeastern China city, at the third Honda auto parts factory to face a work stoppage in the last two weeks.

A chanting but nonviolent crowd of workers gathered outside the factory gates on Friday morning and held a short protest march before dissolving into a large group of milling young workers who filled the two-lane road for more than a block outside the factory.

The strikers here have developed a sophisticated, democratic organization, in effect electing shop stewards to represent them in collective bargaining with management. They are also demanding the right to form a trade union separate from the government-controlled national federation of trade unions, which has long focused on maintaining labor peace for foreign investors.

“The trade union is not representing our views; we want our own union that will represent us,” said a striking worker, who insisted on anonymity for fear of retaliation by government authorities or the company.

Geoffrey Crothall, the spokesman for China Labour Bulletin, a labor advocacy group based in Hong Kong that seeks independent labor unions and collective bargaining in mainland China, expressed surprise when told how the Honda workers here in Zhongshan had organized themselves. “It does reflect a new level of organization and sophistication” in Chinese labor relations, he said.

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