[Marxism] Re: Chinese Success Story Chokes on Its Own Growth

dwalters at marxists.org dwalters at marxists.org
Wed Dec 20 07:39:05 MST 2006

  David, I much appreciate your description of Shenzhen. Perhaps you will
  consider adding to it. I'll ask some questions to encourage you.

Thank you Haines

  You distinguished workers employed in the maquiladora-like Shenzhen Economic
  Zone (SEZ) and unemployed immigrants. When you spoke of "workers slums around
  the downtown", does that refer to the housing of both groups?  Or do these
  unemployed immigrants have no real housing at all?

Excellent question. The person who took us to their home was actually the
hostess at a high-end bar we ended up at. The contrast between the way she was
business suit, quite elegant actually, with where she lived with 30
other women from someplace along the Yangtze originally, was stark. Migrants,
we learned in Hong Kong later, actually lived in alleys, parks, new or
abandoned industrial sites.

  When you say "slums", that is an ambivalent word, and I wonder if you would be
  more specific. I was on a social-tour bus one time and it drove by where I
  happened to be living (in Copenhagen) and pointed to the building as an
  example as a slum; I thought I was living fairly comfortably! Is the housing
  in Shenzhen publically constructed multi-unit high rises or make-do shacks
wherever there is open space and without license?

You know, I don't know who owned the buildings. Large infrastructure development
in China still tends to be owned by the State (albeit run now in capitalist
manner, with Boards of Directors, profits, etc). But there is a lot of private
construction to. These were all very new and
older apartments. Garbage in the
streets, uncollected trash, the stench of urine, the few older people (the
development we went to was mostly employed young people, living in what looked
like cramp barracks like conditions. I didn't even see a bathroom. "Slum" is a
deliberate word.

  To what extent do these slums have a proper modern infrastructure: water,
  sewage, and electricity?

Definitely electricity, and few small TVs too were playing. I described a
little. Our host also said there was some gang activity, mostly from youngsters
in another part of town, apparently. Some rapes had occurred there too.

  China is undergoing a very rapid transformation, and so one mut look at
  trends. If there are no jobs for the thousands who flock to the city in search
  of them, then one might suspect that a) the word will get out not to bother
  going there, b) the authorities may try to block the immigration to avoid a
  social disastor. Do you have any sense that the hugh number of unemployed is a
  temporary problem that will largely disappear in, say a decade?

Yes, actually, I do
but it all depends on growth rates in the economy. The
countryside is a disaster since the effective privatisation of land. There are,
according the both the gov't and the  Chinese Labor Bulletin people, 150 million
migrants looking for work. These do not include the new industrial unemployed in
the North East of China where much of China's heavy industry was located and is
now experiencing closures and privatisation. The conditions are not unlike what
Engels describes in his Condition of the Working Class in England. So, I
suspect, the economy will absorb many of the migrants, but enough unemployed to
hold down wages, which will be especially important for Chinese massive
capitalist development if the currency starts to float upward. We're talking
about a classic capitalist development here, along with State infrastructure
control and investment (transportation and utilities, albeit the latter is
being privatised).

  You indicate there's a lot of construction, but is it mostly of factories,
  or  does it also include housing? If there is a rapid expansion, then despite
  the great number of unemployed, it seems the number of employed must be going
  up. Is the number of unemployed going up, down, or is it fairly stable?

I was there 5 years ago or so
I have no idea the current situation. I should not
of given the impression that the construction was mostly factories. I was
mistaken. In the are of the city I was in it was totally office buildings and
condominiums. Oh
and hotels. Lots of hotels.

  In the U.S., great numbers of immigrant workers flocked to these shores in
  the 19th and 20th century, and there was a similar problem of country
  bumpkins lacking skills for factory employment and who faced a language
  barrier. However, in time individual immigrants would manage to get into key
  positions (especially policemen, foremen in factories, pastors of churches)
  to act as a buffer or mediator between the immigrants and the rest of society
  (although this did not seem to happen to a significant extent with the rural
  Black population migrating to northern cities in the U.S.). Do you have
  reason to believe that it might be happening in Shenzhen, or does the SEZ
  system operate in a way to deepen rather than bridge social divisions?

Good description. Definitely deepen. The whole region is a SEZ, and, including
Canton, from what I was told. If development along the way does so in the way
you describe, then yes, minus any sort of social organization. The CPC itself
appears non-existent locally. Municipal services in working class areas appear
non-existent for that matter. There did not appear to be any social buffeting
at all.

  And finally, what of labor organizations? Official policy has come to favor
  unionization, perhaps because authorities see it as a useful instrument of
  social control. Did you see any evidence of the ACFTU's presence in the SEZ?
  Any evidence of unionization in the factories?

I didn't go to any factories. The hotel(s) we stayed at were all non-union and
the employees were very afraid to discuss the issue. I'm not sure but it seems
to me that there is an official policy to actually disregard unionisation
unless there is a political reason (a la Wal-Mart) to do so: strikes, riots,
demonstrations, etc. The ACFTU is in an interesting position, controlled as it
is by the CPC. Labor Bulletin people (I spoke with a member at that time who
was opposed to the LB taking any money from the Voice of America or the NED, as
it happens) at that time, which was before Wal-Mart and actually before big
strike waves that occurred * outside * of the North East, believed that the
ACFTU was an areas that different wings of the CPC bureaucracy fought over, and
used it to express dissident positions.


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