Monday, July 12, 2010

China's Race to the Top, Ctd.

Today's New York Times gets in on the new theme - China's labor force is movin' on up:
If Wang Jinyan, an unemployed factory worker with a middle school education, had a résumé, it might start out like this: “Objective: seeking well-paid, slow-paced assembly-line work in air-conditioned plant with Sundays off, free wireless Internet and washing machines in dormitory. Friendly boss a plus.”

As she eased her way along a gantlet of recruiters in this manufacturing megalopolis one recent afternoon, Ms. Wang, 25, was in no particular rush to find a job. An underwear company was offering subsidized meals and factory worker fashion shows. The maker of electric heaters promised seven-and-a-half-hour days. “If you’re good, you can work in quality control and won’t have to stand all day,” bragged a woman hawking jobs for a shoe manufacturer.

Ms. Wang flashed an unmistakable look of ennui and popped open an umbrella to shield her fair complexion from the South China sun. “They always make these jobs sound better than they really are,” she said, turning away. “Besides, I don’t do shoes. Can’t stand the smell of glue.”

Assertive, self-possessed workers like Ms. Wang have become a challenge for the industrial titans of the Pearl River Delta that once filled their mammoth workshops with an endless stream of pliant labor from China’s rural belly.

In recent months, as the country’s export-driven juggernaut has been revived and many migrants have found jobs closer to home, the balance of power in places like Zhongshan has shifted, forcing employers to compete for new workers — and to prevent seasoned ones from defecting to sweeter prospects.

The shortage has emboldened workers and inspired a spate of strikes in and around Zhongshan that paralyzed Honda’s Chinese operations earlier this month. The unrest then spread to the northern city of Tianjin, where strikers briefly paralyzed production at a Toyota car plant and a Japanese-owned electronics factory.

Although the walkouts were quelled with higher salaries, factory owners and labor experts said that the strikes have driven home a looming reality that had been predicted by demographers: the supply of workers 16 to 24 years old has peaked and will drop by a third in the next 12 years, thanks to stringent family-planning policies that have sharply reduced China’s population growth.

In Zhongshan, many factories are operating with vacancies of 15 to 20 percent, compelling some bosses to cruise the streets in their BMWs and Mercedeses in a desperate hiring quest during crunch time.

The other new reality, perhaps harder to quantify, is this: young Chinese factory workers, raised in a country with rapidly rising expectations, are less willing to toil for long hours for appallingly low wages like dutiful automatons....

But the more immediate challenge is to the Chinese export machine, which churns out about a third of China’s gross domestic product. Stanley Lau, deputy chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Industries, whose 3,000 members employ more than three million workers, said he had been advising factory owners to offer better salaries, to treat employees more humanely and to listen to their complaints.
“The young generation thinks differently than their parents, they have been well protected by their families, and they don’t like to ‘chi ku,’ ” Mr. Lau said.

The expression “chi ku,” or eat bitterness, is a time-honored staple of Chinese culture. But for young workers in Zhongshan, it is not the badge of honor that an older generation wore with pride....
Read the whole thing here.  Now can anyone honestly say that China's workers would be better off if the West had isolated the ChiComs back in the 70s and 80s, refused their entry into the WTO a decade ago, or imposed steep tariffs on all their products today?


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