10 February 2013

A few New Year’s resolutions

... for the Lunar Year of the Snake, that is. From China’s central government, no less.

They include higher taxes on the wealthy and higher rates of transfer from state-owned enterprises to the government in an effort to mitigate rampant inequality, as well as reforming the union system to better represent the interests of workers in the manufacturing sector, and throwing hints that it will phase out the old laogai (勞改, reeducation through labour) camps, beginning with Yunnan. (Coincidentally or not, these announcements of reform coincided with a significant seasonal spike in labour strikes prior to Spring Festival.) All, on paper, very laudable goals - but more importantly, a reflection that labourers and leftists concerned about inequality have been successful in swaying policy to some degree, in spite of the risible treatment of Bo Xilai and the silencing of debate over the Chongqing model.

There are, however, concerns that these are manoeuvres to put a damper on these very same forces. Chinese workers for the most part have been calling for reform, transparency and more democratic organisation within the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions (中華全國總工會), but the fact that practically no strikes are organised under the body’s own auspices means that all strikes are de facto wildcat strikes. By obliging calls for union reform to some degree, the Chinese government appears to be hoping to contain and exert some control over the informal and extralegal means that labourers (particularly migrant labourers from China’s inland) are increasingly bringing to bear on their employers. We shall see what becomes of these reforms: whether they go the way of most New Year’s resolutions, whether they are merely signals for more neoliberalism and exploitation of workers in the Chinese economy, or whether they actually signal a deeper commitment on the central government’s part to humane and egalitarian reforms.

In the meantime, 萬事如意,身體健康!祝大家新年快樂!

... Okay. I know the New Year’s show sucked particularly badly this year, so here’s some brain bleach for those of you unfortunate enough to have had to watch it. Pure, 200-proof Taiwanese thrash - no poseurs allowed!

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