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2005-04-24
Shenzhen, China. Chinese Workers Strike Wal-Mart Supplier

Wal-Mart may have trouble keeping its shelves stocked with Chinese-made phones, as a result of a worker action in Shenzhen Province in China. According to the China Labor Bulletin, workers at a Japanese-owned Uniden factory are demanding their right, guaranteed by Chinese law, to form a union -- a right that Wal-Mart, on paper, agreed to. The 12,000 workers at the Uniden plant in China's export zone are mainly women migrants from poor interior provinces. They make telephones which end up on Wal-Mart shelves. These Chinese workers put in eleven hour days (three hours of forced overtime) and earn the equivalent of $58 a week. These workers have been staging a massive strike action since April 17th in an effort to win the right to set up their own trade union in the factory. On April 20th, riot police sealed off the factory entrance to prevent the protesting workers, mostly women, from marching out of the factory. Uniden management has refused to allow them to establish a trade union. Last December, the same workers conducted a similar strike protest over the right to unionize, seeking sick leave pay and maternity leave, permanent contracts after ten years seniority, and decent meals and water in the worker's hostel. Uniden promised the workers a union, and better pay, but a new Japanese manager came in, and never honored the company's commitment. Wal-Mart's announced last winter that it would finally allow trade unions to be established in its stores in China. Then the Guangdong Provincial People's Congress passed a local law, effective last November, that ten or more workers employed at factories in Guangdong Province that currently have no official trade union branch are guaranteed the legal right to establish a trade union on their own.



What you can do: This strike is connected to the current hostilities between the Chinese and the Japanese. But it is also a reminder that working conditions in China remain a sore problem for Wal-Mart. The Uniden phones on Wal-Mart shelves are made by women who leave their home to live in substandard hostels, and work long hours at sweatshop pay. When you buy a phone at Wal-Mart, or any other Chinese product, you are buying into this sweatshop system of exploited labor. Wal-Mart should intervene with Uniden and require that they honor the concessions pledged by the phone maker, including allowing these workers to do what Wal-Mart fears the most: form a union. And U.S. shoppers should, in turn, put pressure on Wal-Mart to allow unions among its own workforce, by not buying products from their stores. The low pay of Chinese workers is what brought Uniden, and Wal-Mart, to China in the first place. The chance to exploit cheap labor is the driving force behind much of Wal-Mart's business model.










 
 
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