Trina Tocco, International Labor Rights Forum
On Monday night, Anita Chan (China Labor News Translations) and Jeff Fiedler (FAST-Research Associates of America) gave a terrific analysis of labor rights in China today as well as specific information about the way in which workers took part in forming a union at Wal-Mart retail stores in China more than two years ago. As you probably know, forming a union in China is very different than what happens in the US since there is only one union in China and it is controlled by the government.
You can learn more about the ACFTU (All China Federation of Trade Unions) and China labor law by checking out one of Manfred's recent blogs here.
You can also learn about the recent efforts to organize Wal-Mart workers by checking out a recent blog written by Paul Garver here.
What I thought was most interesting about the discussion were the difficulties the audience had with determining what they could actually do to support strong labor standards and their working brother and sisters across China.
In the audience were people that study China, local labor unions from different US cities, people that have lived in China, people that work on international labor issues and others that are interested in China and Wal-Mart. This meant there were some people that study the issues and know them inside and out. All the while a number of other people in the room didn't have very much direct experience with China. This range of exposure to labor rights in China kept the conversation jumping around a bit while questions arose concerning clarification on whether China is Communist or Capitalist to the speakers opinions on whether the China labor law was being implemented.
I have been very interested in trying to determine ways to talk with
union members in particular about China and this event really gave me
an opportunity to see the types of questions that local union members
have about China.
One question that I think was most important was: "What can we do to help the workers in China?"
The response from Anita and Jeff was really important. The workers don't need your help but rather need your support. The workers in China will decide for themselves what sort of union they want. However there is an opportunity for unions to send people to China to meet directly with workers to learn more about conditions first hand and also to share with them the strategies used for organizing in the US. In addition labor unions in the US can support nonprofits/NGOs in China and in the US that are training workers on their labor rights.
This event showed me just how much need exists for local union members to be educated about labor rights in China. This event on Monday reminded me just how essential labor solidarity really is. ILRF is is willing to work with local unions on trainings and education on international labor issues and I hope that I can connect with some of the labor unions that attended this event to continue the discussion.