By Joseph Horch,
International Business Writer
Over the last three decades China’s labor force has been exploited by the means of low wages and lack of regulation in place to protect laborers. However, after decades of economic growth at breakneck speeds, China’s economy has slowed dampening its demand for labor and driving labor costs up.
Overcapacity became a big issue and in response, factories, mines and businesses began to withhold wages and pensions, laying off workers or closing up shop all together. With workers facing dismal job prospects, they are fighting back with an unbridled rage. Since 2014 there have been over 2,700 protests, and more than 500 since January of this year according to China Labor Bulletin, a labor rights group based in Hong Kong.
Social media and encrypted messaging apps have allowed workers to organize in unprecedented numbers and force. Apps like WeChat enable protesters to send and receive money, share posts and organize without government intervention.
Privately owned factories and firms felt the brunt of the protests in 2014, however state-owned companies have begun to face protests in similar numbers. These public displays of outrage not only spark layoffs, shut downs and wage withholdings, but the government increases policing of the social media sites to prevent the organization of protests. The Chinese government actively deletes organizer feeds and articles criticizing the government’s handling of protests.
Arrests have been high, fueling the outrage of the unemployed labor force. Several prominent leaders of labor rights organizations have been arrested for charges seemingly unrelated to the actual protests, such as disruption of traffic. The government crackdown has also drawn the criticism of international human rights groups. Hundreds of videos of police brutality have surfaced online thanks to social media outlets.
With China’s economic growth expected to continue to slow, the rule of the communist party has begun to be questioned by the outside media. Many outsiders expect the party to face increased pressure from outraged workers and concerned human rights groups.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, March 22nd print edition.
Contact Joseph at