“China’s summer of discontent”

After going over the other sources of discontent this summer, Democracy Digest talks about the taxi drivers strike, which I haven’t carried on here yet:

The Communist party’s ability to contain simmering social unrest is also being tested in Hangzhou, where a taxi drivers’ strike has prompted “the kind of violence seldom seen in China, outside the ethnically tense regions of Tibet or Xinjang.”

The strikers reportedly returned to work today, official sources claimed, after the authorities agreed to adjust fares. But the dispute raises serious questions about the sustainability of a closed political system which provides no institutional outlet for the articulation and resolution of citizens’ grievances.

“Taxi drivers can’t participate in the drafting of polices relating to them, and can’t protect their rights through the courts or labour unions, which means they have no choice but to go on strike,” says Guo Yushan, a researcher at the Transition Institute, a privately-funded think tank. “China has had 60 taxi strikes since 2004. If the system doesn’t change, the strikes will continue in different cities.”

Some China watchers had predicted a “hot summer” of social unrest fueled by discontent over rising inflation. The taxi drivers’ strike is the latest in a series of disputes that are worrying the ruling Communist authorities who are especially wary of workers taking industrial action independently of the officially-sanctioned All China Federation of Trade Unions.

“We have seen these kinds of disturbance on a regular basis in China for several years now. I think you can possibly say there has been a bit of an upsurge,” according to Geoffrey Crothall of the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin. “There is a lot of pent up anger and frustration among ordinary people – not just migrant workers,” he said.

Like with workers in Guangdong finding solidarity an effective tool, groups across China are learning to stick together. How the government reacts to these pushes will be an incredibly important part of determining what happens next.

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Filed under inequality, labor dispute

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