There has been a noticeable surge in the number of strikes and worker protests in China since the Lunar New Year Holiday in early February. China Labour Bulletin recorded 119 incidents on our strike map in March alone. Overall, there were 202 incidents in the first quarter of 2014, up 31 percent compared with same period last year. This increase might partly be explained by greater social media coverage but there does seem to be a pronounced increase in activism on the ground.
Although the media coverage of recent worker activism in China has been dominated by several high-profile disputes involving multi-nationals such as Walmart (see photo below) and IBM, the workers’ movement continues to be broad-based, with protests in a wide range of industries across the whole of the country.
Manufacturing industries continue to be the main source of labour disputes, accounting for 35 percent of all strikes and protests during the first quarter. About one third of the strikes in the manufacturing sector were related to wage arrears and another quarter of them to demands for compensation, suggesting that many factories are still in the process of closing down or relocating without giving workers a fair deal. Strikes in which factory workers demanded pay increases were relatively rare during the quarter, representing less than ten percent of the total.