A STRIKE at the Chinese factories of the world’s biggest athletic shoe manufacturers escalated yesterday to include more than 30,000 workers.
Workers in the southern city of Dongguan want Taiwanese-owned Yu Yuen Industrial Holdings – which makes shoes for companies such as Nike and Adidas – to make social security contributions required by Chinese law and meet other demands.
They have been striking in increasing numbers in on-and-off stoppages since 5 April.
A labour group says the number of people now involved in the action makes it one of the largest work stoppages at a private business in China.
The strike is the latest in a wave of unrest at factories in China, where labour shortages and the rising cost of living have made migrant workers from the countryside increasingly assertive.
The latest walkout threatens to impact on the manufacturer’s production for clients that also include Reebok, Asics, New Balance and Timberland.
The company has refused to issue any comment on the strike.
More than 30,000 workers took strike action yesterday to demand the company make outstanding payments into social security funds and meet its commitments to provide free accommodation and meals, according to the US-based China Labour Watch.
Yu Yuen Industrial Holdings, one of the biggest manufacturers in China, operates factory complexes the size of small cities where workers are housed in dormitories.
Worker Cui Tiangang, 31, who cuts and glues rubber soles at one of the Yu Yuen factories, said the number of workers on strike had more than doubled since the latest round of stoppages started on Monday.
“We expect at least an explanation, to give us an answer [regarding the demands]”, he said. “We will keep on striking if there is no offer.”
The strike reflects a growing focus on retirement benefits among Chinese migrant workers who previously were content to receive fewer benefits in return for higher pay, said Wang Jiangsong, a leading authority on labour issues at the China Institute of Industrial Relations.
“In the past they did not understand the system or trust it, and they would prefer not to pay social security but receive more in cash,” Mr Wang said.
“Now the ageing migrant workers are seeing they have little income when they retire to their rural villages.”
Yu Yuen’s plants in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Mexico and the US make about 21.5 million pairs of shoes each month.
The number of strikes that have taken place in China so far this year is up by close to a third.
China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based rights group, says there were 119 last month alone.
Bosses face an uncomfortable new reality – workers who not only know their rights and will challenge management to defend them, but who demand more than the legal minimum.
“This is going to be a very tough year for employers in China,” said Leslie Ligorner, Shanghai-based partner at Simmons & Simmons. “There will be more strife and strikes.”