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Collective Bargaining and Changing Industrial Relations in China.

Lessons from the U.S. and Germany


Siqi Luo

This study focuses on the status and prospects of collective bargaining in China based on lessons learned from the post-war United States and Germany. The author regards collective bargaining as a type of core wage regulation that emerged from production regimes at the factory level and from economic and labor policies of the state. This analysis compares the production regimes and the state-labor-capital relations in China today with the U.S. and German models in order to identify the missing links as well as potential driving forces in the current system of collective contract in China. Finally, the author proposes an ideal model of collective bargaining in China, one that offers solutions to a more just and sustainable trajectory of industrial development and that tailors to the power status of the major actors in industrial relations.


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Industrial relations and new regimes of production in China


Many aspects of early capitalism, such as assembly-line-based mass production, insecure employment, barely sustainable wages, lengthy work hours, and stuffy workshops, are found in China today. Does this necessarily imply that China is going through the same development path, as what U.S. or Germany had in the early twentieth century? I argue that a simple 'yes' or 'no' answer to this question would be far from the reality. The historical experiences of collective bargaining in the the U.S. and in Germany were initiated and shaped by production regimes in the factories, by state laws and policies, and by the global politics and economy. Fordist wage regulation ensured steady economic growth and industrial peace during the golden age of capitalism. However, due to divergences in both production regimes and industrial relations, the economic and industrial outcomes were better and more stable in Germany than in the US. In order to compare China with the US and German models of industrial relations and collective bargaining, a systematic analysis is necessary. First, I examine the general working conditions in China's factories, including capitalist strategies on production and work organization, as well as de facto labor standards. I focus on the automobile and electronics industries to illustrate these conditions. I further analyze wage regulation and collective bargaining within the historical and current political and social circumstances. In addition, I describe the new trends in global production and polity, including the unprecedentedly mobile capital, the dominance of neoliberalism, and the labor- unfriendly development. On this...

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