Thread solidarity and power : a study of garment workers' self-organization of production in the Yangtze River Delta Region of China

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Thread solidarity and power : a study of garment workers' self-organization of production in the Yangtze River Delta Region of China

 

Author: Fan, Lulu
Title: Thread solidarity and power : a study of garment workers' self-organization of production in the Yangtze River Delta Region of China
Degree: Ph.D.
Year: 2015
Subject: Clothing trade -- China
Clothing workers -- China
Labor movement -- China.
Hong Kong Polytechnic University -- Dissertations
Department: Dept. of Applied Social Sciences
Pages: 267 pages : illustrations
Language: English
InnoPac Record: http://library.polyu.edu.hk/record=b2827768
URI: http://theses.lib.polyu.edu.hk/handle/200/8295
Abstract: Based on my participant observation in two garment factories in Jiaxing Pinghu, and participation in a large-scale study of garment industries in six cities in the Yangtze River Delta Region, this thesis explores new forms of work organization, labor process, production and reproduction in Chinese booming garment industry, and how garment workers develop solidarity and power on their own. I look into the typology of Chinese garment workers and understand their self-organization in the sphere of production and reproduction, as well as how such associations affect labour's power. To this purpose, I identify six types of garment workers in relation to skill level, average hourly wage, method of pay and level of control over the labour process, including workers in cooperative production teams, individual outsourced workers, workers in contractor teams, regular workers, older workers and student workers. Significantly, this thesis highlights that, while China approaches full maturity stage (the Toyne Mode), informal employment and outsourced production in the Chinese garment industry are not the result of underdevelopment or total manipulation by capital (as in Third World societies) as understood by existing literature. Indeed, on occasion, informal employment is an active choice of workers. As labour shortages have become increasingly severe, particularly regarding skilled workers in the garment industry, increasing numbers of skilled workers wish to become informal and independent workers in cooperative production teams or individual outsourced workers in factories. This gives them the opportunity to earn higher hourly wages and achieve more autonomy over the labour process. This situation also occurs in the informal sector as many experienced all-round workers choose to work in non-factory production units. I identify four types of non-factory units in the garment industry according to number of workers, production activities, space arrangements for production and living, and personal relationship in the organization. These non-factory units are: contractor workshops, workshops involving family members and wage earners, cooperative production teams and home workers. This thesis discusses class formation to understand relationships among class, localism, gender and skill level. Male or female garment workers, at differing points in the process of proletarianization, originating from various native places, with varying skill levels and are at differing stages of life, participate in different kinds of work organization: cooperative production teams and contractor teams. These two types of worker self-organization are diverse in terms of class structure, social organization, organizational faith and motives for taking collective action. Therefore, they have different roles in protecting workers' rights and interests. Native place and other social bonds blur class conflict in contractor teams; meanwhile, in cooperative production teams, class identity overcomes other distinctions and helps bond workers together in struggle against employers. In this research, we discover that workers with stronger market bargaining power have greater opportunity to organize democratic and equal association and this in turn enhances their associational power.

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