Massive strikes by Chinese shoemaking factory workers have all but ended, largely due to aggressive governmental interventions.
According to Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings, owner of the factories the workers are protesting, at least 80 percent of the 45,000 employees have now returned to work in the southern city of Dongguan in the Guangdong province. That number cannot be independently confirmed. Associated Press reported that about 10,000 workers are still on strike.
Workers have accused local officials and the company of conspiring together to intimidate workers into submission through the use of force. The state news agency, Xinhua, reported that riot police arrested dozens of workers. The China Labor Bulletin reported that four workers were hospitalized after clashes between police and workers.
The strikes have persisted for nearly three weeks now and, according to labor leaders, continue to grow despite the factory owners offering a monetary deal and government interventions. The labor organizers 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.
The Taiwanese-owned company, Yue Yuen, 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.
Anxious about the economic consequences of a protracted factory shutdown, especially after Adidas announced it shifted some of its manufacturing to alternate facilities, the Chinese government has become increasingly involved. Local government officials in Dongguan decided that Yue Yuen Industrial, one of China’s largest shoemakers, is obligated to compensate workers for pension contributions promised but never delivered. Also, the government-run trade union released a survey that determined the pension payment should be calculated on the basis of each worker’s base wage, rather than total income.
Yue Yuen tried to placate protesting by offering them a compromise that would include funds to cover pension contributions never made as well as housing funds also pledged. Yue Yuen 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.
Labor leaders summarily rejected the offer and, instead of winding down their demonstrations, 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.