Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Joel Andreas -- Open Labor Markets vs. Workplace Participation: Lessons of Market Reform in China

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

5 p.m. – 7 p.m.

McKinney Conference Room

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"Open Labor Markets vs. Workplace Participation: Lessons of Market Reform in China," with Joel Andreas, Associate Professor of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University.

After 1949, the Chinese Communist Party developed an elaborate complex of “democratic management” institutions, policies, and practices in Chinese workplaces. In this paper, based primarily on interviews with over one hundred workers and cadres employed by factories in several cities, I first examine the system of industrial relations in place during the first four decades of communist power. The system, I conclude, was only democratic in a very limited sense, but workers had considerable influence, an essential foundation for which was permanent job tenure. I next assess the impact of sweeping market reforms since the mid-1990s, which have restructured industrial enterprises and eliminated permanent job tenure. Examining decision-making in two key areas—selection of leaders and distribution of wages and bonuses—I find that market reforms have sharply undermined workers’ influence and produced much more coercive labor relations. Opening up labor markets, I conclude, undercuts employees’ “membership rights,” curtailing possibilities for democratic participation in the workplace.

Joel Andreas, Associate Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University, studies political contention and social change in contemporary China. His recent book, Rise of the Red Engineers: The Cultural Revolution and the Origins of China’s New Class, analyzes the contentious process through which old and new elites coalesced during the decades following the 1949 Revolution. He is currently investigating changing labor relations in Chinese factories between 1949 and the present. 

Location: McKinney Conference Room, Watson Institute, 111 Thayer Street.