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April 03, 2007

What to do about China?

Today, Global Labor Strategies posted an excellent consideration of Chinese labor rights and China's role in the global economy, and what a progressive outlook on the Chinese economy might look like. The concluding section is particularly cogent:

Workers, communities, and countries throughout the world are confronting the challenges posed by the emergence of China as a global economic powerhouse. About 25% of the global work force is now Chinese. Indeed, China has become the focal point for many Americans' feelings of insecurities in the global economy. [...]

Some in the labor movement and Congress have begun to recognize that simply criticizing the Chinese state fails to address the dominate role of global corporations in the global economy. Roughly 66% of the increase in Chinese exports in the past 12 years can be attributed to non-Chinese owned global companies and their joint ventures. Foreign owned global corporations account for 60% of Chinese exports to the US. Indeed, if the US retail giant Wal-Mart were a country it would be China’s 8th largest trading partner. The "Chinese threat" is less about trade with China than it is about trade with Wal-Mart and GE. Global corporations move to China to lower labor costs -- and they use those lower labor costs as a lever to drive down wages and working conditions for workers in other countries, and even within China itself.

Obviously, the China issue is only going to get bigger, and it would serve progressives well to start thinking about what a fair and just vision of the global economy might look like with regards to the world's biggest labor pool. Global Labor Strategies has taken the lead in following Chinese labor issues, so those interested should definitely keep an eye on their work.

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