China and Migrant Workers
Image Credit: Tom Booth

China and Migrant Workers

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Local authorities in Guangdong are grappling with ways of controlling migrant workers following major riots last month, the South China Morning Post has reported.  The provincial government has announced a pilot programme to recruit migrant workers into local government and the Communist Party, while the party secretary of Shenzhen said that the special economic zone had expelled more than 80,000 migrant workers deemed ‘security threats’ as part of preparations for an international university sports competition next month (both stories are unfortunately behind a pay wall, but follow the reporting of the excellent Chinese-language Southern Metropolis News).

Guangdong’s plans include recruiting migrant workers as civil servants and giving official status to mutual aid associations set up by migrants. Zhu Mingguo, the province’s deputy party secretary, toldthe Chinese newspaper that the province would select migrant workers as representatives to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a body that acts rather like a lower house to China’s legislature.

In an interview today for another story, Peking University’s Pan Wei dismissed the reforms as cosmetic, and indeed the province has set itself a low quota of 120 migrant workers in government by the end of the year, out of 17 million.

Dealing with migrant workers has been a persistent challenge for Chinese leaders. On the one hand, they are often seen as undesirable vagrants who threaten the image of developed areas and who are prone to disorder. Being registered as residents of rural areas, migrants are generally denied access to social services by urban governments. At tense times, such as the run-up to the Beijing Olympics and the economic crisis, officials tend to focus on making migrants simply go home. On the other hand, the Dickensian conditions faced by workers in China’s most prosperous regions are a challenge to the current government’s vision of a ‘harmonious society’ without major social divisions, and Beijing has generally recognized that unrest is often based on legitimate grievances, pushing local authorities to resolve disputes with payments and negotiation.

Guangdong has reason to focus on migrant workers following a pair of major riots last month in which thousands of workers attacked police and burned government cars and buildings. Guangdong party chief Wang Yang, widely seen as a contender for promotion to the top-level Politburo standing committee next year, has particular reason to show off his social control chops with innovative policy.

Wang Yang may well win points for an inventive response, but it points to a strange direction for Chinese politics. Since the economic crisis, the Chinese government has seen a stream of policy changes in response to social unrest. Last month, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao announced increased development and environmental aid to Inner Mongolia following major riots there. Local governments across the country have stepped into pay back wages to workers protesting dishonest employers. Is China becoming a country where rioting is the best way to get anything done?

David Cohen is a freelance journalist. He blogs at www.sinocentric.net and his writing has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Guardian Online, the Global Times, the China Daily and the Lowy Interpreter among other publications.

Comments
7
???
August 12, 2011 at 02:44

I believe that we should stop crying.

???
August 12, 2011 at 02:43

I believe that we should stop paying out the Chinese.

China
August 11, 2011 at 02:08

i like it.

sebhai
July 29, 2011 at 18:27

Which chinese bloggers are you referring to exactly?

a_canadian_observer
July 29, 2011 at 16:48

@Observer: Ditto!

Observer
July 26, 2011 at 04:53

Well, Chinese bloggers always brag about how everyone is being treat equal in China and everything is great.

But whenever a bad story comes out of China, they are no where to be found. LOL.

Milo Jones
July 19, 2011 at 14:28

The Zengcheng Public Security Bureau published a notice offering cash rewards of 5,000 to 10,000 yuan (roughly $770 to $1,550 USD) AND hukou, or urban residency status, to informants who provide information about people involved in the June 10-12 “unrest” (see the Zengcheng Daily of the June 19).

This is clearly a tactic to both gather intelligence and to divide migrant workers to keep them from organizing further. It is difficult to reconcile police tactics like this, however, with the larger narrative in which continued urbanization is a key engine of future Chinese economic growth.

See further doubts about Chinese urbanization and the economy here: http://silberzahnjones.wordpress.com/2011/04/08/statistical-cautions/

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