A Workers State No More

18 Dec

China once prided itself on being a Workers State. Now, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, extreme worker dissatisfaction is widespread. A professor at Tsinghau University in Beijing said in 2010 there were 180,000 riots, strikes and protests.

I worked in China back in 1985, for the New China News Agency. The first day I walked into my dusty, dingy office I was handed a month’s pay – in cash. “I haven’t done anything yet,” I told my supervisor. She answered, “In China we pay you for work you will do; not for work that you have done.”

That suited me fine.

At the time there was a great surplus of labor so we didn’t work very hard. It was a six-day work week but we could have done it all in four. You were allowed time off if a relative died and women could stay home during their periods. As an expected result, fathers sometimes had multiple deaths and females on occasion menstruated twice a month.

No one cared.

When there were beer shortages in the summer, the Agency got us beer. For those who didn’t have showers or bathtubs at home (there were many) you could take a shower in the company washroom while on the clock. (I once naively asked a co-worker: Why is your hair all wet?)

Food in the dinning hall was heavily subsidized. If you donated blood you got three days off to rest and coupons for free milk and meat. If you were sick, you went down stairs to the company clinic to be treated, for free, of course.

In the heat of summer you ate a quick lunch and slept for two hours. (In winter it was only an hour.)

Pay was low, but people paid minuscule rent, if any. There were few regular expenses and from what I saw, it was clear the disposable income of Chinese workers was actually higher than that of some Americans.

I think most of this has changed.

Today, companies in China try to take land from people and towns, causing protests. They will try to relocate factories to areas where labor is cheaper, causing riots.

Someone at a demonstration ought to stand up with one of those old books of propaganda about the supremacy of the worker and ask, “Hey, aren’t we a Communist country?” and see what happens.

Jail, probably.

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