China sticks it to The Man?

The Times of London tut-tuts about China's plans for boosting workers' rights.

Published June 21, 2006 8:26PM (EDT)

Talk about your pro-corporate spin! A comprehensive reform of China's labor laws is on its way to the Chinese People's Congress. It is not yet complete, but if enacted into anything close to its current form -- and enforced -- the bill would substantially increase worker's rights in China. For starters, under the new "Labor Contract Law" workers would be harder to fire and, if laid off, would receive greater severance pay. Safety and workplace inspections would be bolstered. Employers would be forced to consult with trade unions over proposed job cuts. Overtime pay would be increased, and a shorter work week enforced.

Such a law would be great news not just for China's laborers, but for workers everywhere. It could stand as an example to other developing nations. It could signal to the developed world that the global economy is not an inevitable race to the bottom. It would be a clear sign of progress for China.

So how did the Times (of London) present the news?

The headline: "Foreign investors may quit if China tightens up labor law."

The lead sentence: "A reform of Chinese labor laws may lead foreign investors to leave the People's Republic in favor of rival Asian nations with weaker labor standards, employers have said."

(A side note: the article does not actually quote any named employers. It includes one mealy-mouthed whine from the European Chamber of Commerce and another quote from a Chinese relations expert in the U.K. saying the law was "long overdue." This suggests that the top of the story may have been rewritten by some Rupert Murdoch ideologically inspired editorial flunky.)

But, but, but -- one can only splutter! This is news? Employers threatening to pack up and move if labor laws are strengthened? Here we have an absolutely critical development in the ongoing development of China -- a decision to resist the rampant exploitation of workers that, up until this point, both local governments and national leaders have implicitly supported, and the Times delivers unsourced speculation that paints the entire thing as bad for business.

It's enough to make one want to storm the barricades.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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