CONDITIONS OF THE WORKING CLASSES IN CHINA
ROBERT WEIL � 2005
Every class and sub-class stratum in China is undergoing dramatic changes that will have a profound impact on their own role, the relations between them, and the future course of the society. These transformations are especially evident among the Chinese working classes, who are experiencing the most radical alterations in their conditions in many decades. They have major implications not only within China, but for the global system, both in their own direct impact and as one �model� for developments elsewhere as well. The Chinese working classes are today mounting some of the largest protests found anywhere in the world, demanding basic changes in their political, economic and social conditions and relations, and are experimenting once again with collective forms of organization. Among the consequences already being seen, are the creation of a new climate that is helping to stimulate the revival of the �left� in China, still relatively small and tentative in its newfound openness and mobilization, but nevertheless becoming a significant factor on the national, and potentially at least, the international scene.
The following report and analysis is based primarily on a series of meetings held with workers and peasants in and around Beijing, in Jilin province in the Northeast, and in Henan province in the central part of the country, as well as other observations and discussions, over a five week period in the summer of 2004. It makes no pretense at comprehensiveness�we did not visit the coastal areas where the greatest concentration of foreign investment is found, and which have received most of the attention from media and NGOs in the United States�but rather presents a snapshot from the �grassroots� of the kinds of changes that significant segments of the Chinese working classes are now undergoing, as seen by those we talked with directly. It analyzes as well some of the possibilities and limitations that the workers, migrants and peasants are facing, as the full effects of �marketization� and �globalization� sweep over them. It briefly discusses the new role of the left in relation to these developments, and suggests some of the possible directions that may emerge from the present rapidly evolving situation. The meetings on which this paper is based were arranged by and carried out with Alex Day and another student of Chinese affairs. Others both within and outside China contributed to the ideas found here. The names of those with whom we talked and organizations referred to have generally been omitted, due to possible �complications� that using them might entail for those involved. Any errors in content or interpretation remain my own responsibility.
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