Chapter

Transition, Globalization, and Changing Industrial Relations in China

Xiaobo Lu

in The Politics of Labor in a Global Age

Published in print September 2001 | ISBN: 9780199241149
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598920 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/0199241147.003.0007
 Transition, Globalization, and Changing Industrial Relations in China

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For nearly three decades, industrial relations in the People's Republic of China were characterized by what were common in state socialist systems—an economy dominated by state‐owned enterprises, employee dependence on the enterprise, state‐controlled union organizations, and relative labour peace. Despite sporadic working class protests in PRC history since 1949, there were no organized labour movements. Labour disputes were usually described as ‘contradictions between different parts of the same organization’ by the communist authorities. With the economic reforms launched in 1979, Chinese industrial relations entered a period of change. This chapter proceeds on the premise that political choices as well as institutional legacies of the past, in state socialist countries such as China, affect the sequence and methods of transformation of industrial relations. It aims at laying out some basic features of industrial relations under state socialist regimes and in transition economies with a focus on China. It argues that although the internationalization of the Chinese economy has had a major impact over the past decade, the character and direction of change in Chinese industrial relations is best understood within the framework of the general transition from state socialism to market socialism. Neither the changing international political economy nor the transition from state socialism has diminished the significant role of the state in redefining and managing industrial relations. The pace, scope, and sequence of changes in industrial relations are thus determined not only by choices by key factors responding to a global economy but also significantly by structural constraints derived from the entrenched danwei (work‐unit) system that stood at the core of the pre‐reform Chinese industry.

Keywords: China; danwei; economic reform; industrial relations; labour movement; market socialism; state socialism; state‐owned enterprises; trade unions

Chapter.  11233 words. 

Subjects: Comparative Politics

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