Contrary to some scholars’ assertions, worker-led autonomous collective bargaining has become a practical reality in the Chinese authoritarian regime, especially as seen in the Pearl River Delta between 2011 and 2015. Analysing the practices and strategies of negotiation, this presentation will show how this is possible in a regime that neither allows independent trade unions nor the right to strike. Highlighting that some labour NGOs have become a catalyst for workers’ collective action, Dr Froissart will analyse how workers manage to change the power balance with employers, official unions and local authorities and alter the latter’s response to labour conflicts. This presentation will thus stress social actor’s ability to carve out a space for negotiating authoritarianism, despite obvious limits and tightening political constraints. However, the prospects for institutionalizing collective bargaining remain bleak. Trade unions’ and local authorities’ refusal to strike a durable alliance with workers and labour NGOs condemns it to remain, for now, an ad hoc and localized mode of conflict resolution.
Dr Chloé Froissart is currently the Director of Tsinghua University Sino-French Centre in Social Sciences in Beijing, Senior Researcher in political sociology and political science at the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC) in Hong Kong, and Associate Professor at the University of Rennes 2 (France). She has studied extensively the changes in public policies regarding migrant workers’ urban integration in Chengdu in the 2000s and has followed the unfolding of the worker movement in the Pearl River Delta since 2004.