CHINAWHEREAS, with a population of more than 1.3 billion and an economy that quickly has grown to become the world's second-largest consumer of oil and other energy resources that expands at nearly 10 percent per year and in 2005 exported more than $160 billion worth of goods to the United States alone, the People's Republic of China is the proverbial "elephant in the room." Sadly, however, China is also the single largest violator of human and trade union rights in the world. As summarized in a 2004 Amnesty International special report on China's abuses of human rights:
"Hundreds of thousands of people continue to be detained in violation of their fundamental human rights across the country, death sentences and executions continue to be imposed after unfair trial, torture and ill treatment remain widespread and systematic, and freedom of expression and information continue to be severely curtailed."
Key human rights concerns include the continued use of kangaroo trials, jailing, torture, the death penalty and labor "reeducation" camps to repress Chinese citizens who express opposition to the dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party. Among the many targets of repression are independent political activists, democratic labor activists, certain religious groups such as the Falun Gong and Chinese Catholics, Tibetan dissidents, Chinese Muslims, internal migrants and "cyber-dissidents" who use the Internet and other electronic means of communication to encourage uncensored free speech.
The treatment of workers and the lack of labor rights in China are of special concern to American workers. There is no freedom of association in China. Workers are not allowed to form their own independent unions or to join a union of their choice. There is only one "so-called" union organization in China, the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). The leadership of the ACFTU is appointed by the Chinese Communist Party, and the organization's purpose is to enforce the party's labor policies and to deny workers any independent union representation. According to an ACFTU statement, "Trade unions (ACFTU unions) must resolutely oppose any organization or individual expressing political views countering those of the Party."
This repression of workers' rights in China has a detrimental impact not only on Chinese workers but also on the well-being of American workers, as outlined in a 2006 AFL-CIO "petition against China" submitted to the U.S. Congress:
"China encourages forced labor. Most of the workers in China's export sector are temporary migrants from the countryside. They work under bonded labor, a form of forced labor…that deprives migrant workers of the most fundamental civil, legal and political rights…. China does not enforce its own laws with respect to wages, hours and occupational safety and health. Most manufacturers in China pay their workers much less than the minimum wage standards set by the central government."
In the same petition, the AFL-CIO calculates that this produces an unfair cost disadvantage that resulted in the loss of 727,000 jobs in the United States between 1992 and 2001. "Since 2001, the U.S. trade deficit with China has grown by almost 50 percent."
Despite the risks and lack of union freedom, workers in China are staging wildcat strikes, demonstrations and social protests against low wages and the abuse of workers by company managers. In some rare cases, workers at the plant level have formed independent unions to try to negotiate improvements in wages and working conditions, only to have the new union forced into the ACFTU. Tiangui Di, 57, a longtime labor activist in Shanxi Province, was arrested for organizing a National Factory Workers Retirees Association. His own application for permission to form the association became evidence against him on a charge of "overthrowing the state."
Due to government censorship and lack of a free press, there is no telling exactly how many Chinese workers engage in illegal labor actions; however, organizations such as the China Labour Bulletin, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and Amnesty International report each year hundreds of independent "illegal" labor demonstrations and strikes in China.
The size of China, its economic power, its potential internal markets, its growing military machine and the Chinese Communist Party's seemingly unshakable opposition to political and labor rights appear to cause other nations and businesses to overlook human rights violations in China. The recent actions of American firms such as Yahoo and Google to collaborate with Chinese government censorship and persecution of Chinese dissidents is a sad example of this tendency. The working people of China deserve better and should not be forgotten:
RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers continue to monitor the condition of human and trade union rights in China and to take whatever measures possible to call attention to government violation of such rights; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT, in cooperation with the AFL-CIO, continue to pressure the Chinese government to free those still imprisoned as a result of their efforts to secure labor and human rights; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT continue to urge the U.S. government to make every effort to ensure that the Chinese government releases all "prisoners of conscience"; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT continue to demand that the Chinese government extend to all Chinese citizens their basic human rights, including freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of religion; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT reiterate its policy of noncooperation and noncontact with the ACFTU and work to discourage misguided efforts to extend fraternal benefits to organizations that falsely claim to represent workers and serve only to subdue the genuine efforts of the Chinese people to be represented by unions democratically selected by themselves; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT communicate to the U.S. Congress, Department of State and Department of Labor the importance of promoting workers' rights when creating trade, investment or development agreements and in international political or cultural exchanges; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT continue to work with organizations that are committed to the principles of free and democratic trade unions; and
RESOLVED, that the AFT remain committed to provide moral and material assistance when possible to Chinese individuals and organizations that are working to promote democracy and trade union rights in China.