Catalyzed by unpaid benefits and substandard wages, and propelled by social media, more than 40,000 workers brought production to a halt at the giant Ye Yuen footwear factory in Dongguan, China, the largest strike in modern Chinese history. Since the summer of 2011, China has seen over 1,000 strikes. Growing labor shortages and rising labor costs have fostered this growing assertiveness among workers at China’s thousands of export-oriented factories, resulting in unprecedented anxiety among Chinese authorities and global brand owners alike. With the consolidation of suppliers in fewer and larger factory operations, these brands no longer have the flexibility they once had to relocate to lower-cost countries. The labor unrest has resonated beyond mainland China, spurring solidarity protests in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Melbourne, San Francisco, and other cities. The gradual closing of the era of cheap and plentiful labor in China— and, with it, cheap consumer goods—portends a structural shift in brand-supplier relations. History may well mark the Ye Yuen strike as a seminal event in re-establishing labor as more unified force for global workplace justice after decades of disempowerment.
Bodes well for the future