I recently had the opportunity to visit China and Hong Kong. This was the first time I was able to meet with many of the people that ILRF works with there. One thing that was so striking in each conversation was intense concern regarding the incredible number of factory closures resulting in tens of thousands of workers returning back to the country side. China has a migrant "floating population" of 130 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. Yin Weimin, minister of human resources and social security in China, estimated at a news conference this month that about 300,000 of the 6.8 million migrant workers from one province, Jiangxi, to the south of Anhui province, have returned home.
Many of the people I met described that the train stations were like spring festival every day where hordes of workers return back to their rural roots once a year. With such a massive shift of the population back to their homes, this will have lasting impact in China. Just image many of the urban centers throughout the U.S. going to areas where only farming is the primary method of work. Imagine the lives that migrants were exposed to in the cities and knowing that many of them were very young women, its possible they'll not want to go back to farming. These individuals have many skills and therefore may want to expand what is offered in the country side.
Another thing that was mentioned to me was that the Chinese government is keeping track of factories to make sure that they don't run away in the middle of the night in order to maintain some social stability. There is a deep concern that with so much unemployment and so many workers that are owed back wages, workers may begin to lash out. The government in some cases is now requiring factories to notify them when before they want to close. It also seems that the government has in some cases been paying the wages owed to the factory workers when the factory owners disappear. You can see more on recent worker protests here.
In the image below from the Wall Street Journal article "China Fears Restive Migrants as Jobs Disappear in Cities" posted on December 2, 2008, one can view the provinces where the migrants workers are returning that had for the most part shifted to Shenzhen on the southern coast.
Another interesting point expressed several times to me while in China had to do with the toy manufacturing industry. The Pearl River Delta is southern China is said to produce about 90% of all toys. Shockingly there are estimates that as many as half of the 3,600 toy factories in southern China have closed so far this year.
With all of this economic unstability, ILRF has also noticed a roll back on some of the laws passed in accordance with the New Labor Contract Law. ILRF is following the situation of unemployment in China closely as it will have major impact not just for Chinese workers, but for workers around the world.