[Marxism] Chinese Success Story Chokes on Its Own Growth
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Dec 19 11:03:16 MST 2006
NY Times, December 19, 2006
Chinese Success Story Chokes on Its Own Growth
By HOWARD W. FRENCH
SHENZHEN, China When Zhang Feifei lost her job
in this booming Chinese factory town, she was not
terribly concerned. Jobs had always been
plentiful in Shenzhens flourishing economy.
Then Ms. Zhang, a 20-year-old migrant laborer,
lost her identity card and was shocked to find
that no factory would hire her without a bribe
that she could not afford. Desperate for money,
she ended up working in a grimy two-room massage
parlor in a congested alley here, where she has
sex with four or five men each day.
I was terrified at first, and I was really
embarrassed not even knowing how to use a
condom, said the soft-spoken young woman,
casting her eyes downward as she spoke. I didnt
have any choice, though. Little by little, you have to get used to it.
Few cities anywhere have created wealth faster
than Shenzhen, but the costs of its phenomenal
success stare out from every corner:
environmental destruction, soaring crime rates
and the disillusionment and degradation of its
vast force of migrant workers, Ms. Zhang among them.
Shenzhen was a sleepy fishing village in the
Pearl River delta, next to Hong Kong, when it was
decreed a special economic zone in 1980 by the
paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. Since then, the
city has grown at an annual rate of 28 percent,
though it slowed to 15 percent in 2005.
Shenzhen owed its success to a simple formula of
cheap land, eager, compliant labor and lax
environmental rules that attracted legions of
foreign investors who built export-based
manufacturing industries. With 7 million migrant
workers in an overall population of about 12
million compared with Shanghais 2 to 3 million
migrants out of a population of 18 million
Shenzhen became the literal and symbolic heart of the Chinese economic miracle.
Now, to other cities in China, Shenzhen has begun
to look less like a model than an ominous warning
of the limitations of a growth-above-all approach.
While grueling labor conditions exist in many
parts of China, Shenzhens gigantic plants,
employing as many as 200,000 workers each, have
established a particular reputation for harshness
among workers and labor advocates. Monthly
turnover rates of 10 percent or more are not uncommon, labor groups say.
The tough working conditions, in turn, have
helped spawn one of the most important labor
developments in China in recent years:
large-scale wildcat strikes and smaller job
actions for better hours and wages. The Guangdong
Union Association, a government-affiliated group,
said there were more than 10,000 strikes in the province last year.
Among Chinese economic planners, Shenzhens
recipe is increasingly seen as all but
irrelevant: too harsh, too wasteful, too
polluted, too dependent on the churning, ceaseless turnover of migrant labor.
This path is now a dead end, said Zhao Xiao, an
economist and former adviser to the Chinese State
Council, or cabinet. After cataloging the citys
problems, he said, Governments cant count on
the beauty of investment covering up 100 other kinds of ugliness.
As the limits of the Shenzhen model have grown
more and more apparent, other cities in Chinas
relatively developed east are increasingly trying
to differentiate themselves, emphasizing better
working and living conditions for factory workers
or paying more attention to the environment.
Some inland cities have started to provide
migrants social security, including pension and
other insurance, said Wang Chunguang, an expert
in class mobility at the Chinese Academy of
Social Sciences in Beijing. In Chengdu, in
Sichuan Province, residency controls are
loosening up and education for migrant children is getting more attention.
Migrants do still arrive here, of course, drawn
by the promise of work and undaunted by stories
of the difficult life that awaits them. Some,
like Ms. Zhang, who come here for the
$100-a-month sweatshop salaries, end up trapped,
literally too poor to leave. But many others
quickly become disillusioned and return home.
Increasingly short of workers, factories recently
have increased assembly-line wages by as much as
20 percent. But even so, critics say, Shenzhens boom has spread little wealth.
While the city is dependent on migrant labor to
keep its factories running, onerous residency
rules discourage migrants from settling here
permanently and make it difficult for them to
obtain public services from education to health care.
The government has evaded its responsibilities
toward migrant workers, Jin Cheng, a member of
an influential local civic forum, Interhoo, said bluntly.
The resulting rootlessness has fed a wave of
crime of a sort hardly ever seen elsewhere in
China. Gunfights, kidnappings and gang warfare
are rife, and crime rates are skyrocketing.
Although the city does not publish crime data,
the Southern Metropolitan News, one of the most
reputable Chinese newspapers, reported that there
were 18,000 robberies in 2004 in Baoan, one of
six districts in Shenzhen. By comparison, in
Shanghai, a city of around 18 million, there were
only 2,182 reported robberies for all of 2004,
according to figures compiled by the city.
Near the gates of Foxconn, a huge electronics
assembly plant that is one of the city of
Shenzhens largest employers, a half-dozen former
factory workers lounged in the shade on a recent afternoon.
Asked if it was their day off, one of them, a
20-year-old, explained that he had been fired
when he developed lesions on his arms from
exposure to paints and asked to switch jobs. Now,
he said, he and his friends survived by beating people up for a living.
In addition to shakedown crews like this one,
prostitution, usually thinly disguised in karaoke
joints and massage parlors, but increasingly in
the open, ranks as one of the citys biggest
industries. In Shenzhens blue-collar
neighborhoods, thick with fetid workers
dormitories, the frustration with hard labor,
merciless factory bosses, low pay and miserable living conditions is palpable.
Ive changed jobs many times, said one man, a
onetime factory floor manager, who was lying on a
bunk bed in a stiflingly hot room jammed with
other workers. The pressure is very high in
these jobs. They dont give you weekends, or
breaks especially the Taiwanese companies.
Migrant workers describe the citys labor market
as a predatory environment filled with
unscrupulous job brokers, fraudulent training
courses and a multitude of other scams aimed at
cheating the most disadvantaged part of the population.
Yu Di, a 19-year-old from Hubei Province with a
junior high school education, said he worked in a
grimy watch-casing factory, loading and unloading
heavy boxes from a truck 11 hours a day, six days
a week. With a salary of about $80 a month and
no benefits Mr. Yu has to borrow money from his
parents just to cover his living expenses. He
lives in a dim and filthy dorm room, crammed with
12 bunk beds and mattresses made of bare springs
covered with cardboard. The only thing I regret
is not working hard in school, he said.
In the room next door, Zhou Hailin, 20, who grew
up in Guangan, the hometown of Deng Xiaoping,
seems better off. Mr. Zhou, who came to the city
four years ago, earns about $120 a month as a
machinist in the same watch factory.
To do so, though, he must work eight-hour shifts,
plus three or four hours of mandatory overtime,
six days a week. A typical workday, he said, ends
at 10:30 p.m., when he often goes to visit a
sister who works in another factory nearby.
Asked if he ever visited downtown Shenzhen, which
bristles with skyscrapers and shopping malls, he
said he had never had time. I have to work every
day, Mr. Zhou said. All the factory jobs here
are the same. Thats what its like being a migrant laborer.
Mr. Zhou calmly accepts his lot, but for many the
merciless grind of factory life is too much.
Their health failing, or their dreams of amassing
sizable savings broken, these workers opt to
return home to simpler lives in the countryside.
Shenzhen may seem prosperous, a worker said,
sitting in his bunk in a steamy dormitory, but its a desperate place.
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