IBM factory strike shows shifting China labor landscape

Sun Mar 9, 2014 1:23am EST
 
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By John Ruwitch

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - A wildcat strike at an IBM factory in southern China illustrates how tectonic shifts under way in the country's labor market are emboldening workers to take matters into their own hands, raising risks for multinationals.

More than 1,000 workers walked off the job last week at the factory in Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong, after managers on March 3 announced the terms of their transfer to new ownership under Chinese PC maker Lenovo Group Ltd.

Lenovo agreed in January to pay $2.3 billion for International Business Machine's low-end server business.

The strike, which continued into Sunday, fits a growing pattern of industrial activism that has emerged as China's economy has slowed. A worsening labor shortage has shifted the balance of power in labor relations, while smartphones and social media have helped workers organize and made them more aware than ever of the changing environment, experts say.

"Chinese workers, after being exploited for so long, are now more and more aware of their rights and united. They have more of an idea of collective action," said labor lawyer Duan Yi.

A report by the advocacy group China Labour Bulletin last month said it had talled 1,171 strikes and protests from the beginning of June 2011 to the end of December 2013.

Many worker protests during that time in Guangdong province, a manufacturing hub where the IBM server factory is situated, were sparked by the closure, merger or relocation of factories.

In November, hundreds of employees stopped work at a Nokia factory in Dongguan, near Shenzhen, complaining of changes following Nokia's sale of its mobile phone business to U.S. software giant Microsoft Corp.   Continued...

 
IBM workers shout slogans as they protest at an IBM factory in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, March 7, 2014. REUTERS/Alex Lee