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Labour NGOs in China: A Real Force for Political Change?

  • Ivan Franceschini (a1)

The narrative about Chinese NGOs active in defending migrant workers' rights describes these organizations as increasingly powerful instruments through which Chinese people take part in public affairs, develop and articulate personal interests, and collectively form a more active and participatory citizenry. This article challenges not only the idea of labour NGOs as a progressive force for political change, but also the belief – widely shared among the international labour movement – that these organizations are sprouts of independent unionism in China. After a short overview of the historical process which led to the birth of labour NGOs in China, this article analyses the relations between these NGOs and four fundamental actors – the state, the workers, international donors and other NGOs – and argues that many of these organizations are struggling as a consequence of a substantial lack of “social capital.”

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