Adam Minter of the Shanghai Scrap blog has a piece on Bloomberg casting doubt on recent reports of massive labor unrest at a Foxconn plant in China last week—an apparent sequel to the wildcat strikes last year. Minter asserts that the whole thing came down to a single Oct. 5 press release from China Labor Watch, which asserted that some 4,000 workers had walked off the job at a plant in Zhengzhou, Henan province. The grievances: “In addition to demanding that workers work during the holiday, Foxconn raised overly strict demands on product quality without providing worker training for the corresponding skills. This led to workers turning out products that did not meet standards and ultimately put a tremendous amount of pressure on workers. Additionally, quality control inspectors fell into to conflicts with workers and were beat up multiple times by workers. Factory management turned a deaf ear to complaints about these conflicts and took no corrective measures.”
Minter bemoans: “News organizations worldwide, eager for anything iPhone-related, rushed to report the press release, and by the end of the weekend the event was international news, with some analysts going so far to blame the alleged strike for a 2.21 percent decline in Apple’s stock price on Monday.” With subtle smarm, he describes China Labor Watch as “influential,” making the word a live link to an interview with its editor Li Qiang in the New York Times’ The Lede blog. And he claims the journalists who tried to independently corroborate the story were stymied, suggesting it originated in an imaginative post from a lone Sina Weibo micro-blogger who goes by the handle Ye Fudao (enigmatically translated as “The Wild Husband’s Cleaver”), irresponsibly seized upon and fed to an eager Western media by China Labor Watch.
The technology portal CNET quotes a statement from Foxconn denying that the strike took place, stating: “We can confirm that there were two disputes between a small group of production line workers and Quality Assurance (QA) personnel at our manufacturing facility in Zhengzhou, China on October 1 and 2 but these were isolated incidents and were immediately addressed and measures taken, including providing additional staff for the lines in question, to address the issues raised by both production workers and QA personnel.”
There doesn’t seem to be any doubt about the disturbances last month at Foxconn’s plant in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, although the details of what exactly happened aren’t clear. The New York Times on Sept. 23 portrayed it as a “riot” that started as a “fight among factory employees,” and was put down when police massively invaded the plant. China Labour Bulletin links to photos of broken windows, burning debris and other evidence left in the aftermath of the unrest at a Chinese-language website, Datang5.com. China Labour Bulletin also says photos of upturned police cars were uploaded, but those don’t appear visible now.
Minter headlines his piece “Did Chinese iPhone Workers Really Go on Strike?” and his lead reads: “If 4,000 people go on strike at an iPhone factory in China, will anybody know it?” He seems to be seeking to loan comfort to Apple and Foxconn by portraying the media and labor watchdogs as alarmist, but the sheer level of ambiguity here speaks volumes about the inherent contradictions of a China that embraces corporate globalization and (within proscribed limits) the Internet, while still maintaining many fundamentals of the old totalitarian system…