China: did new Foxconn strike happen?

Adam Minter of the Shanghai Scrap blog has a piece on Bloomberg casting doubt on recent reports of massive labor unrest at a Foxconn plant in China last week—an apparent sequel to the wildcat strikes last year. Minter asserts that the whole thing came down to a single Oct. 5 press release from China Labor Watch, which asserted that some 4,000 workers had walked off the job at a plant in Zhengzhou, Henan province. The grievances: “In addition to demanding that workers work during the holiday, Foxconn raised overly strict demands on product quality without providing worker training for the corresponding skills. This led to workers turning out products that did not meet standards and ultimately put a tremendous amount of pressure on workers. Additionally, quality control inspectors fell into to conflicts with workers and were beat up multiple times by workers. Factory management turned a deaf ear to complaints about these conflicts and took no corrective measures.”

Minter bemoans: “News organizations worldwide, eager for anything iPhone-related, rushed to report the press release, and by the end of the weekend the event was international news, with some analysts going so far to blame the alleged strike for a 2.21 percent decline in Apple’s stock price on Monday.” With subtle smarm, he describes China Labor Watch as “influential,” making the word a live link to an interview with its editor Li Qiang in the New York Times’ The Lede blog. And he claims the journalists who tried to independently corroborate the story were stymied, suggesting it originated in an imaginative post from a lone Sina Weibo micro-blogger who goes by the handle Ye Fudao (enigmatically translated as “The Wild Husband’s Cleaver”), irresponsibly seized upon and fed to an eager Western media by China Labor Watch. 

The technology portal CNET quotes a statement from Foxconn denying that the strike took place, stating: “We can confirm that there were two disputes between a small group of production line workers and Quality Assurance (QA) personnel at our manufacturing facility in Zhengzhou, China on October 1 and 2 but these were isolated incidents and were immediately addressed and measures taken, including providing additional staff for the lines in question, to address the issues raised by both production workers and QA personnel.”

There doesn’t seem to be any doubt about the disturbances last month at Foxconn’s plant in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, although the details of what exactly happened aren’t clear. The New York Times on Sept. 23 portrayed it as a “riot” that started as a “fight among factory employees,” and was put down when police massively invaded the plant. China Labour Bulletin links to photos of broken windows, burning debris and other evidence left in the aftermath of the unrest at a Chinese-language website, China Labour Bulletin also says photos of upturned police cars were uploaded, but those don’t appear visible now.

Minter headlines his piece “Did Chinese iPhone Workers Really Go on Strike?” and his lead reads: “If 4,000 people go on strike at an iPhone factory in China, will anybody know it?” He seems to be seeking to loan comfort to Apple and Foxconn by portraying the media and labor watchdogs as alarmist, but the sheer level of ambiguity here speaks volumes about the inherent contradictions of a China that embraces corporate globalization and (within proscribed limits) the Internet, while still maintaining many fundamentals of the old totalitarian system…


  1. confirmed that 3,000 to 4,000 workers refused to work at Foxconn

    China Business Journal confirmed that 3,000 to 4,000 workers refused to work at Foxconn ZhengZhou
    The Mess at Foxconn Zhengzhou: Conflicts Triggered by Extensive Management 
    Editor’s note: After CLW released a press release on October 5th on a strike occurred in Foxconn ZhengZhou, we received some doubts on the number of workers who participated in the strike. Today, China Business Journal published a report on the strike, they interviewed many workers in Foxconn ZhengZhou, part of this article confirmed our press release.
    We translated the entire article but still it is still under editing. For more details, please have a look at this link.
      China Business Journal is a leading provider for financial news and information. it’s a weekly journal, and the circulation is 850,000 every week.

    The full report can be downloaded by clicking:

  2. Workplace “democracy” at Foxconn?
    Forgive our skepticism. Blogs Michelle Chen for In These Times, Feb. 22:

    Foxconn is…introducing its young, sometimes rambunctious, occasionally suicidal workforce to the virtues of workplace democracy. 

    The company has announced that workers will be able to vote for union representatives at their factories. The plan, according to news reports, is to allow workers to elect “junior workers” to represent them in a union leadership structure historically dominated by management and officials. In a union system closely linked to the political establishment and employers, the goal, it seems, is to keep labor relations smooth as factories churn out their signature Apple product lines…

    Following widespread media coverage of the cluster of suicides, Foxconn and Apple have engaged in a well-publicized auditing process and vowed to raise labor standards. But despite reports showing incremental improvements in the notoriously hyper-stressful factory conditions (as well as some persistent labor violationsmany questions remain on whether these changes are really changing workers’ day-to-day lives or influencing global manufacturing standards as a whole.

    Though the promise of a more direct election system at Foxconn (paralleling similar initiatives at other workplaces) suggests Foxconn is yielding to public and worker-driven pressure for a more responsive management structure, elections will not ensure equitable collective bargaining rights, and they are definitely no guarantee of genuine respect for workers’ fundamental freedom of association. Contrary to popular perceptions, many Chinese workplaces are nominally unionized, with millions of union members nationwide. The massive state-controlled All-China Federation of Trade Unions is tasked with keeping labor roughly in line with neoliberal economic policies, though growing social unrest in recent years has heightened attention to workers’ issues in official political circles.

    Historically, these official unions have acted as tools for management rather than channels for advocacy. According to a 2010 report by Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, economic liberalization and a whirlwind of privatization led to a transfer of union leadership from the official state to a state-friendly managerial classand workers’ hardships and disenfranchisement persisted…

    Within the official union apparatus, there are mechanisms for addressing labor grievances. Some advocates do genuinely try to help workers seek redress… The question is not whether labor structures and protections exist on paper, it’s a matter of how workers gain the power to navigate the barriers imposed by the economic and political elite.

    This is a sign that the international pressure on Apple and Foxconn is having an impact, but should certainly not be taken as license to lower our vigilance…