The super-exploitation of Chinese student-workers – an interview

We received this interview from a supporter who has worked in China in the recent period. It highlights the terrible conditions that many Chinese workers face today.

angry-workersFor the past couple of years I have been fortunate enough to work abroad in China. Living here gave me a chance to directly experience conditions after over twenty years of market “reforms”. Near my workplace every day I went past an Olympic Stadium from the 2008 games, while just a couple of hundred metres away was a shantytown that people called their home. Such a massive contrast characterises Chinese society as a whole, and the consequences of the “reforms”.

The Chinese Communist Party maintains an autocratic rule over society, through a combination of strict censorship and police state methods, while aiding the capitalist class in their super-exploitation of the working class. Living and working conditions for the average Chinese worker can be shocking. The following is an interview with a student-worker from southern China, who was willing to share experiences about training to become a railway worker, and the appalling conditions that they worked under.

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Interviewer: Would you like to explain your situation?

Last winter we were chosen by the train company for training. The college and the train company work together to coordinate the whole scheme. The train company chooses the best students for a five year training period. The training was over a three month period in the nearby train station. I was selling tickets the entire time.

Interviewer: How were working conditions during your training?

We worked for 8 hours a day, being paid just 30 RMB per day [£3 sterling, €4.20, US$4.70]. I cannot live on 30 RMB a day. The cost of just eating is more expensive. For the entire training period my salary was just 1500 RMB, and even now I have still not been paid even that. We have been told we will get it at the end of the current semester. In fact, we had been told that we would receive 100 RMB per day. I don't know where the rest of the money disappears to, but I have heard that the college receives this money. The college and big business are in bed with each other.

Interviewer: How did you and your workmates feel about this?

Terrible! The conditions were so bad. We were given a living space too. It was one large room, shared with 30 other workers from the station. It was expected we would eat and sleep there. I had to use money from my relatives to try to improve the situation, even though I had this job. I chose to share a flat nearby the station, instead of that unbearable living space. We get paid so little, but do so much work. During busy holidays like Spring Festival and National Holiday, we are made to work until we are told to stop. We have no breaks; I have no time to rest or sit down. If I sit down, I cannot sell tickets. The only break we get is for eating. Any mistakes at work we make we are expected to pay for ourselves. I saw one of my workmates pay 1000 RMB for mistakenly printing out the wrong ticket.

Interviewer: So how were you trained?

Other workers were supposed to help and supervise us selling tickets. It was a bad atmosphere, however. The more tickets a worker sells, the more points they are given. One ticket sold was worth 2 points. The more points you get, the more you get paid. This means the other workers are often unhelpful, because they are scared you will take a sale off them. I felt uncomfortable and scared asking for help, because I got shouted at and got told “don't bother me”. Workers are too concerned about selling as many tickets as they can. An atmosphere of competition between workers is encouraged by the company.

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Such conditions and worse are the norm for the Chinese working class. Here the results of capitalist restoration can be seen; zero-work rights, terrible working conditions, and pathetic wages. The new Chinese capitalist class is profiteering off the backs of an increasingly impoverished working class. The only solution for Chinese workers is to put an end to capitalist restoration and return to the planned economy, expropriating the capitalist class. However, this time it must be with a system of workers’ democracy, instead of bureaucratic rule.