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China Information (review) Vol. 31/1, 2017

Worker unrest and institutional change: Perceptions of local trade union leaders in China
Kan Wang, Manfred Elfstrom

First Published December 21, 2016 research-article


Worker protests in China are increasing in frequency, and workers are making more ambitious demands. However, it is unclear whether this activism is, on the whole, drawing a reformist or conservative response from officials. Using a 2014 survey of city-level leaders from China’s official trade union federation, we find that an acknowledgement of the seriousness of today’s labour disputes and of how the country’s industrial relations are changing is positively correlated with respondents’ optimism regarding the likelihood of changes to China’s political system. To determine exactly what this means ideologically, we further compare reform optimists and pessimists with regard to their support for a range of more specific policies, finding that those who believe systemic changes are close at hand have different views from their peers regarding the importance of engagement with global civil society and a tripartite (government, union, employer) approach to managing workplaces. This provides tentative support for the idea that reform optimists are reform supporters and that interest in change among Chinese officials, at least at the level studied here, is growing alongside workplace conflict.


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Vol 31, Issue 1, 2017

China Information
ISSN: 0920-203X
Online ISSN: 1741-590X

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