Labour protests in China bounced back from a minor dip last month, reflecting a new status quo of more frequent and widespread collective action as the country comes to grips with slower growth.
While the leadership in Beijing has taken to calling China’s decelerating economic expansion the “new normal,” that transition has been accompanied by another shift: a consistently higher frequency of worker protests and strikes.
Protests nationwide recorded on China Labour Bulletin’s strike map totalled 207 in April, up from 172 the previous month and representing year-on-year growth of just over 5 per cent.
In China, labour incidents have historically tended to peak ahead of the Chinese New Year when migrant factory and construction workers are paid for their work before returning home for a long holiday, after which strike activity usually cooled off substantially. Both of those sectors have been hit particularly hard by a real estate slump whose knock-on effects have are still being felt throughout the economy, and in January protests hit a record high of 503.
But factory and construction workers angered by their employers’ behaviour are now joined more and more by those in other industries, with employers already squeezed by low demand and rising wages afforded far less breathing room after the new year festivities end.
Geoffrey Crothall, communications director at China Labour Bulletin, said that “what we are seeing now is a consistently high level of protests in an increasingly wide range of sectors, including many in the so-called new economy.”
The 19 protests recorded in the services sector last month, just shy of double the historical average, bear that out. Still, these were less than half the 54 protests seen in manufacturing during the period.
Protests prevalence has extended geographically as well: Hong Kong-adjacent Guangdong – a manufacturing powerhouse which has a long history of labour activism – recorded the highest number of protests at 26 in April. But activity elsewhere is on the rise, and last month five other provinces saw their own totals hit double digits.
“中国劳工通讯”(China Labour Bulletin)的罢工地图显示，4月份，全国记录在案的抗议次数为207次，高于前一个月的172次，年同比增加了5%以上。