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17 communist union branches now set up in Wal-Mart China(cont’d)

Posted by Author on September 3, 2006

China Labour Bulletin, 15 August 2006–

Wal-Mart Finally Finds a Union that it can Live with

However, the company has publicly implied that some of its workers may have been bribed by the ACFTU into applying to set up union branches. In an August 5 interview with a mainland newspaper, 21 Shiji Jingji Baodao (21st Century Economic Report), Ms. Wang Pei, Deputy CEO of Wal-Mart’s China Division, stated that Fujian ACFTU officials had given unspecified “gifts” to the company’s workers in Quanzhou prior to their formation of the first union branch on July 29. While flatly rejecting this allegation, a spokesman for the Fujian ACFTU did not deny that the gifts had been given: their purpose, he said, had been merely “to help the workers through the current season of hot weather”. He added that the ACFTU had given similar (as yet unidentified) gifts to the employees of other companies located in the same building as the Wal-Mart store in Quanzhou.

Finally, on August 10, a senior Wal-Mart spokesman, Jonathan Dong, confirmed that the company had agreed to open up its China stores to the state-run union. “We’re working now to achieve that goal,” he said. Asked to explain why the company had made this concession when it refuses to allow a union presence in its stores in all other countries, Dong revealingly replied: “The union in China is fundamentally different from unions in the West…. The [ACFTU] has made it clear that its goal is to work with employers, not promote confrontation.”

Attempts by Chinese workers to form independent unions remain strictly prohibited by law in China, and the organizers of such efforts are usually sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. The principal role of the ACFTU over the past few decades has been to act, in essence, as the labour-discipline enforcement arm of the Party and government. It rarely if ever intervenes on the side of workers when disputes arise with management or in cases of worker protest and unrest.

But regardless of whether or not the ACFTU’s new union branches can actually deliver any tangible benefits for the Wal-Mart workforce in future, the fact that the company’s worldwide “no unions” policy has now been breached clearly opens a hornet’s nest for the company’s operations elsewhere. According to Bloomberg News:

By allowing unions into its Chinese stores, “Wal-Mart’s applying a complete double standard here,” said Nu Wexler, a spokesman for Wal-Mart Watch, a coalition of labor, religious, community and environmental groups that wants the company to boost wages and benefits. “Why are they comfortable with it in one country and fighting it in another?”

[Sources: 21 Shiji Jingji Baodao (August 5), China Daily (8 August 2006), Xin Jing Bao (August 15), Reuters (9 and 11 August), Xinhua News Agency (9 and 15 August), Associated Press (9 and 10 August), Agence France-Presse (8 August), Bloomberg News (August 10), and China Business Weekly (12 December 2004).]   (END)
– from Wal-Mart Unionisation Drive Ordered by Hu Jintao in March – A Total of 17 Union Branches Now Set Up,  China Labour Bulletin

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Related:
Capitalist Wal-Mart goes communist in China ,  August 24th, 2006

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