Sunday’s labor riots at China’s iPhone manufacturing plants shed more light on one of the deep structural problems facing the Communist Party. As the WSJ writes:
The riot raises questions about the sustainability of China’s vaunted manufacturing machine. And it poses a challenge to the government that is struggling to satisfy the soaring expectations of a new generation of Chinese workers who came of age in an era of double-digit economic growth and are less willing than their parents to make personal sacrifices for their country.
It’s a great historical irony that Communist China’s most pressing internal danger these days is the rising militancy of an industrial working class. The first generation of factory workers coming in from the countryside is often willing to work very hard for very low wages and to patiently accept tough treatment from bosses and guards. But each succeeding generation wants a better deal than the last, and they soon pick up the organizing skills necessary to form unions to demand it:
Almost all employees, most of whom were under 24, harbored goals they hoped to achieve by moving to bigger cities or saving money. Many said they would like to become entrepreneurs, or find work that gave them more independence.
Satisfying their demands is no small order for China in this day and age. Manufacturing is a brutally competitive global business, and Chinese factories have to compete on costs with factories in Vietnam, Bangladesh, and many other countries.
If China tries to pacify its workers with higher wages and benefits, it risks economic stagnation and a manufacturing slowdown that would ultimately undermine the economy and the social order. But if it fails to provide rising living standards for workers, it faces decades of bitter labor unrest and social instability. The consequences of that instability and strife might further drive foreign investors to quieter countries.
Stalin always thought China wasn’t ready for a true communist revolution, which according to him required a large, urban working class with class consciousness, in sharp contrast to the scattered peasantry of China at the time. Sixty years later, China’s red capitalists must be quaking in their boots at the prospect of a worker’s revolution.