Are unions 'selling-out' Chinese workers?
Source Eric Lee
Date 02/06/20/13:03

I don't agree with this (;-)

International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant,
Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers'; Associations (IUF)

Confusion at the ILO? China's Government Elected to Governing Body
as...Worker Delegate

Posted to the IUF website 19-Jun-2002

For decades, there has been a general consensus in the democratic
labour movement that the All-China Federation of Trade Unions
(ACFTU) is a component part of the Party/state power structure in
China, i.e. the Chinese "unions" represent the state (backed by the
army and police) and not the workers. For over a decade, the ACFTU
has been mounting a sustained push for international legitimacy, in
large part to allow it to more effectively support the Chinese
state's economic and foreign policy objectives. And over that same
period - as foreign investment has flowed into a repressive
low-wage regime where the rights of foreign investors are enforced
with full police powers - some national trade union centers have
gradually modified their view of the ACFTU. Some have even engaged
in bilateral activities with the ACFTU, a policy known as
"constructive engagement".

This policy has produced no evidence of gains for Chinese workers,
who continue to be systematically imprisoned for attempting to
exercise their right to freedom of association. But it has brought
about confusion and a creeping legitimization of the ACFTU. The
consequences of this process were apparent in last week's vote by
a divided Workers' Group at the International Labour Conference
where a small majority decided to give the ACFTU a seat as an
alternate worker delegate on the ILO Governing Body. This vote will
unavoidably be seen as a softening of international labour's
commitment to defending the right of Chinese workers to independent
trade unions.

It is no surprise that criticism by governments of China's abysmal
rights record has diminished in inverse proportion to the flow of
foreign investment profiting from repression. But on this occasion
it was worker delegates, not governments, who elected the ACFTU -
part of a state structure that rejects ILO Conventions on freedom
of association - to a seat on the governing body of an organization
whose mandate consists, in part, of defending the principle of
independent trade unions for workers.

The ACFTU's growing international recognition, formal or de facto,
occurs at time of unprecedented worker protest and mobilization in
China, as workers seek to defend themselves against the
consequences of massive restructuring, unemployment, and the
consequences of a free hand for transnational investors. This
spring, tens of thousands of workers in the oil and metal
industries launched sustained struggles for their rights as
workers, and attempted to form independent organizations to
negotiate with the state and its managers. The workers' leaders
have been jailed - with the acquiescence of the ACFTU - but their
protests and demonstrations continue.

Against this background, enhanced recognition of the ACFTU - an
organization which refuses to defend working class victims of state
repression - sends an unmistakable message to Chinese workers that
their demand for independent unions must remain subordinate to
another agenda.

Every capitulation requires a strong dose of amnesia to facilitate
acceptance. International supporters of recognition of the ACFTU
can forget its statutory obligation to "uphold the people's
democratic dictatorship, uphold the leadership of the Chinese
Communist Party, uphold Marxist-Leninist-Maoist-Deng Xiaoping
Thought, uphold reform and opening up...." Chinese workers cannot.
Supporters of "constructive engagement" can forget the close links
between the army, police and security services and the ACFTU.
Chinese workers cannot. Trade union "diplomats" visiting China can
forget the dangerous working conditions in China which result from
the absence of genuine trade unions in the enterprises, claiming
tens of thousands of workers' lives each year. Workers cannot.
Proponents of "critical dialogue" can ignore the vulnerable
position of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU),
the only independent organization of workers in China. Hong Kong
workers cannot, and they can hardly rejoice in last week's vote by
their sisters and brothers at the ILO.

China's working women and men will continue struggling for their
rights because, as workers, they have no choice. The protests this
spring are the beginning of an even larger and more broadly based
workers' movement, a movement which will inevitably challenge the
ACFTU as well as the Party/state and its repressive apparatus.
Workers remember, and they will be asking the proponents of amnesia
which side they were, and are, on.

The ACFTU has quickly learned how to present an acceptable
international face and to skilfully exploit international
confusion. The seat they eventually got - previously held by
Israel's trade union federation Histadrut - was carefully targeted
to capitalize on widespread opposition to Israel's policies in the
occupied Palestinian territories. Those national centers who felt
a vote against the Sharon government could be expressed by voting
to substitute an organ of repression - the ACFTU - for a trade
union - the Histadrut - fell for the ploy and became complicit in
the opportunism. They are guilty of confusion, at best, and a
serious lack of principle at worst. Just as Chinese workers are
being told that their aspirations must take a back seat to an
anti-worker diplomatic agenda, Israel's trade unions - one of the
few independent labour movements in the region - are being told
they must pay for the actions of a right-wing government. Amnesia
and confusion have substituted for principle, and workers
everywhere will have to pay the price.
One defining characteristic of opportunism is an inability to wait.
Just as some would substitute dubious "codes of conduct" and
similar schemes for real trade unions in China, union
representatives who should know better have chosen to give
legitimacy to a state-controlled apparatus for disciplining Chinese
labour at a moment when Chinese workers are challenging the
apparatus of power in that country.

Those who voted the ACFTU as "worker delegates" on to the ILO's
Governing Body no doubt have another explanation. They must
certainly hope that Chinese workers will exhibit collective amnesia
when they finally throw off the ACFTU and the state apparatus that
prevents them from organizing the independent unions they aspire
to. When that happens, as it surely will, Chinese workers will be
asked to erase all memory of this event and of their understanding
of what defines a sell-out as a sell-out.

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