FoxConn workers in Shenzhen, China.

When Chinese Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping formally embraced Neoliberalism in the late 70s it was the final victory for the right-wing within the party. What followed was an opening up of China to Western business for the presumed benefit of all. In reality, China would invert the Maoist principles of the cultural revolution to restructure the country under a system of State Capitalism. The Chinese State, organized and operated by the Communist Party of China, would run the country for its own profit with the Chinese people becoming the State’s property, slaves in effect.

Slave labor was very appealing to Western businesses and China soon became a major destination for the production facilities of multinational corporations. The enticement of extremely low wages and a government more than willing to use any means necessary to keep workers in line was too good to pass up even for the most vaingloriously progressive of companies. The shift of manufacturing facilities to China from Western States that could not offer slave labor wages or the kind of labor market stability State Terrorism provides meant that China would also become a leader in manufacturing innovation. Despite the horrendous conditions for the Chinese people the factories established in China would become the most efficient and profitable in the world. But amidst the “free” market enterprise system existed resistance.

The Foxconn plant in China, a major supplier to Apple and HP, would become a symbol for the brutal conditions Chinese workers faced and their resistance to those conditions. A wave of worker suicides at the plant forced outside media to report on the way Chinese workers were treated and lead to a minor backlash among consumers of Apple and HP products. It was bad press but not enough for corporate managers in America and elsewhere to concede a bad fiscal quarter in order to make reforms.

But now Foxconn workers are taking their destiny into their own hands. After workers protested in September Foxconn has agreed to allow a union vote.

Foxconn, the contract manufacturer whose biggest customer is Apple, is preparing genuinely representative labor union elections in its factories in China for the first time, a powerful sign of the changes in the workshop of the world demanded by an increasingly restive workforce.

This would be the first such exercise at a large company in China, where labor unions have traditionally been controlled by management and local government. Foxconn is the country’s largest private sector employer with 1.2m mainland workers…

The move is part of Foxconn’s attempts to tweak its manufacturing machine, which makes a large proportion of the world’s gadgets such as iPhones, tablets and computers, in response to frequent worker protests, riots, strikes and soaring labor costs. Beijing is also encouraging collective bargaining as a way to help contain the growing unrest.

This may be the first in a long series of steps the Chinese people take to break the chains of servitude and regain their dignity and freedom. Though a small victory it could lead to something more.

Photo by Steve Jurvetson under Creative Commons license