Labor Law Guy

A Hundred Years Later, Henry Ford Comes to China

Posted in Random Musings by laborlawguy on February 3, 2009

American automobile pioneer Henry Ford is famous for many things, including the introduction of assembly-line production and, to make sure workers could endure the boredom of his assembly lines, the $5-a-day pay rule, which was unheard of in 1914. (At the same time, he reduced the workday from nine to eight hours, but we haven’t progressed much since.)

When Ford revolutionized industry with his two implementations, he not only doubled the average worker’s take-home pay, but he also launched the creation of the middle class.

Now, his innovations have come to China, partially anyway. There is no death of assembly lines and other boredom-inducing work conditions in the People’s Republic, but there is also no $5-a-day pay standard either.

Now, at least one labor consultant in China is urging that the nation adopt a minimum daily wage of $5 to spur consumerism in the face of economic hard times. Call it “trickle up,” as the article reporting it did.

All is not well in the PRC. Some 18,000 (some say 60,000) factories have closed since the start of 2008, and at least 10 million (some say 50 million) migrant workers are now out of work and threatening social instability. Officials are worried.

Actually, officials are more than worried–they scared s’less and wreaking havoc on those who would try to organize workers to protest for their rights.

Take the case of migrant worker legal advocate Xiao Qingshan.

On January 9, Xiao said, 14 security officers from the local labor bureau broke into his office, confiscated 600 legal case files, 160 law books, his computer, his photocopier, his television set and 100,000 yuan in cash.

“That evening I was ambushed near the office by five strangers who forced a black bag over my head and then threw me into a shallow polluted canal,” he said. His landlord has since given him notice to quit his rented home.

And meanwhile, all U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner worries about is the exchange rate of the yuan.

Years of sweatshop wages and income equality are coming home to threaten China’s stability–and its leaders. Protests have swept the nation even as Premier Wen Jiabao gets a shoe, Bush style, hurled at him in London.

The prestigious Far Eastern Economic Review headlined its latest edition, “The coming crack-up of the China Model.”

And you thought we had it rough here.

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