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Chinese Shoemaking Factory Strikes Spread

A massive strike of Chinese shoemaking factory workers in southern Guangdong spread into Jiangxi, despite the factory owner’s offer to compensate workers.

On Monday, workers at factories owned by Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings Ltd. showed up for work and clocked in using their time cards, but then withheld their labor, continuing a protest that has now gone on for two weeks. The workers are demanding years of backpay in social insurance and housing subsidies, allegedly promised by management but then never delivered.

Instead of tamping down in response to a conciliatory offer made by Yue Yuen, the strikes have actually expanded next door into Jiangxi; more than 2,000 workers in the neighboring province have followed suit, showing up for work but refusing to manufacture any shoes.

Speaking to Reuters, one factory worker said, “We’re continuing the strike. We swiped our cards and then went back (home). The other production lines in the same network are striking, too.”

The Taiwanese-owned company, Yue Yuen Industrial, employs over 60,000 workers in the southern province of Guangdong. The factory produces sneakers for several major Western brands including Reebok, New Balance, Asics and Timberland, as well as Adidas and Nike. The parent company also owns shoemaking facilities in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Mexico and the U.S.

The main Yue Yuen facilities are located in Gaobu, which covers a sprawling 15.1 million square feet. The factory employs approximately 40,000 employees. It remains unclear how many of those are actually on strike but some labor leaders claim is the entire workforce.

Tens of thousands of striking workers claim that management reneged on their promises to pay full social security benefits and to provide stipends for housing costs. According to China Labor Watch, the strikes began on April 5 and have since snowballed into a sprawling demonstration of thousands. Some workers reported that only two or three out of ten plants remain in operation.

Yue Yeun would not specify how much it was willing to compensate its workers, and it remains unclear how many years of back payments that package would include. Some estimate the collective disbursement could be as high as $32 million which would cover both social insurance payments and housing funds.