The plight of migrant workers in the P. R of China

Millions of workers in China are "illegal" in their own country; they are the migrant workers without a permit to leave the rural areas. But the poverty of their condition forces them into the cities where they are terribly exploited.

The official population of the People's Republic of China is 1.37 billion, but 130 million do not live in their official place of residence. Who are they? They are the migrant workers, unskilled workers from the countryside who "illegally" leave rural poverty to pursue a better life in the city, the economic centres of "new China". [Paragraph edited May 2009]

These workers are the backbone of new China's rapid development, providing cheap expendable labour. The average working week consists of a 12-hour a day, 6½ days a week, where they live on site sleeping where they work. This does not allow for any concerns for their personal safety. They share very small rooms with several other co-workers. Construction continues 24 hours a day with only one break given for a meal and many workers only receive a wage when the job is done, so this means pay only once every two years of a few thousand dollars.

The cases of abuse of human rights by the bosses against these workers are endless and almost always backed by the central government. (Usually the bosses are party members). In Yunnan province, there is a worker who had suffered third degree burns which affected his whole body; his chin had been melted to his chest. He is now a beggar having his daughter sit in front of him with a tin can asking for spare change to buy food to eat. His story is not unlike many other Chinese workers who have suffered a similar fate.

He was from a small village and made the journey to the city to work on the construction of a factory. He did not get permission to leave his village to go and work so he was breaking the law. When the factory was almost complete it caught fire and he was trapped inside and his body was burned into an almost unrecognizable state. He was taken to the hospital where his family had to spend every last fen, "Chinese cent", they had to keep him alive. When his family went to the owner of the factory and asked for money to help pay for the medical bills they were threatened that they would charge the burned worker for being illegally employed. As a result, he is now forced to beg on the streets.

Stories like this are all too common in new China, where the bottom line is always profits. One would ask: are there not trade unions in China to help these workers? There are, but the unions are under the control of the state, which in almost all cases supports the business owners. In some cases the union president is also the owner as they are also top ranking party members!

The Chinese leadership claims it is working towards socialism through capitalism, but do the claimed ends justify the present means? Can any genuine "socialist" country claim to be trying to reach socialism while leaving its proletarian population in these conditions? This can't be the way. The only way is by basing oneself on the workers and handing over the means of production back to them, under workers' control. By having a nationalized and democratically run economy, we can ensure there are no more bosses or bureaucrats putting their profits and positions before workers safety, an 8-hour work day, proper living conditions and basic human rights. The only solution to capitalism and the only way forward to socialism is through genuine Marxism.


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