ILO Research Department Seminar

Atomized Incorporation: State-Labor Relations in Contemporary China

Presenter: Sungmin Rho, The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies Chair: Rafael Peels, ACTARV

Sungmin Rho will present the paper Atomized Incorporation: State-Labor Relations in Contemporary China. See the abstract of the paper below:

It has been assumed that non-democratic regimes often rely on labor coercion and repression in order to attract investment and maintain political stability. Yet, few studies address why some non-democratic regimes have an incentive to discard labor coercion as their labor management strategy. This study shows that the Chinese labor management strategy has evolved away from overt exploitation of unskilled laborers towards limited incorporation since the mid- 2000s. By adopting pro-labor laws, the state has redistributed economic resources from capital investors to unskilled laborers; collective protests of unskilled workers have also been tolerated as long as they remain economic and limited in scope. This paper argues that changes in the socioeconomic conditions since the early 2000s, most importantly rising labor shortage and turnover rates, have rendered the traditional strategy of labor coercion less profitable, while increasing its costs. City governments have utilized the new pro-labor approach to promote industrial upgrading. The change, however, does not signal fundamental labor empowerment.