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  • The China Quarterly, Volume 198
  • June 2009, pp. 287-303

The Making of a New Working Class? A Study of Collective Actions of Migrant Workers in South China*


In this study, we argue that the specific process of the proletarianization of Chinese migrant workers contributes to the recent rise of labour protests. Most of the collective actions involve workers' conflict with management at the point of production, while simultaneously entailing labour organizing in dormitories and communities. The type of living space, including workers' dormitories and migrant communities, facilitates collective actions organized not only on bases of locality, ethnicity, gender and peer alliance in a single workplace, but also on attempts to nurture workers' solidarity in a broader sense of a labour oppositional force moving beyond exclusive networks and ties, sometimes even involving cross-factory strike tactics. These collective actions are mostly interest-based, accompanied by a strong anti-foreign capital sentiment and a discourse of workers' rights. By providing detailed cases of workers' strikes in 2004 and 2007, we suggest that the making of a new working class is increasingly conscious of and participating in interest-based or class-oriented labour protests.

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Ching Kwan Lee , “Three patterns of working-class transitions in China,” in Françoise Mengin and Jean-Louis Rocca (eds.), Politics in China: Moving Frontiers (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), pp. 6291

Isabelle Thireau and Hua Linshan , “The moral universe of aggrieved Chinese workers: workers' appeals to arbitration committees and letters and visits offices,” The China Journal, No. 50 (2003), pp. 83103

Feng Chen Industrial restructuring and workers' resistance in China,” Modern China, Vol. 29, No. 2 (2003), pp. 237–62

Feng Chen , “Privatization and its discontents in Chinese factories,” The China Quarterly, No. 185 (2006), pp. 4260

Ching Kwan Lee , “From the specter of Mao to the spirit of the law: labor insurgency in China,” Theory and Society, No. 31 (2002), pp. 189228

, “Industrial restructuring and workers' resistance”; , and (eds.), (: , )Feng Chen Neil J. Diamant Stanley B. Lubman Kevin J. O'Brien Engaging the Law in China: State, Society, and Possibilities for Justice StanfordStanford University Press2005

Pun Ngai and Chris Smith , “Putting transnational labour process in its place: the dormitory labour regime in post-socialist China,” Work, Employment and Society, Vol. 21, No. 1 (2007), pp. 2745

Chris Smith , “Living at work: management control and the dormitory labour system in China,” Asia Pacific Journal of Management, Vol. 20, No. 3 (2003), pp. 333–58

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The China Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0305-7410
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