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Chinese workers blog vs. Danish factory

By Peter Rasmussen

Sackings of trade unionists at the Ole Wolff electronics factory in Yantai, China, have caused nationwide commotion.......

Workers using the Internet cause a commotion about conditions at the Ole Wolff Electronics factory in China, where national media have spotlighted sackings of trade unionists. A potential test case, says expert.

(This report was posted in the website of 3F, United Federation of Danish Workers, on August 14th, 2008. ---- Editor of Globalization Monitor notes)

Sackings of trade unionists at the Ole Wolff electronics factory in Yantai, China, have caused nationwide commotion.

Chinese radio and TV stations have dedicated air time to the matter, and support for the workers' demand for recognition by the Danish factory has come from the highest quarters of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions.

The workers have been using untraditional methods to make the outside world aware of conditions at the factory: they have been blogging online to keep Chinese readers up to date on the latest in their struggle to unionise.

Media critical of factory

The use of the Internet has caused a stir in China, and many different media have covered the situation. Among others, the Central People's Radio and China Central TV, both nationwide media, interviewed the union and the sacked workers. The press has generally been critical of the Danish factory, says Au Loong-Yu from the organisation Globalization Monitor.

The employees of the factory formed a union in October 2006 because they were dissatisfied with the way the factory management treated the workers. Six of the people who took the initiative to unionise were dismissed. Two courts have since ordered the factory to re-hire the workers it sacked, but this has not yet happened.

Unionised from below

This situation with the Danish factory is unique in China, says Dr. Anita Chan of Australian National University, an expert on the Chinese labour market.

'It is something completely new: the workers are using the Internet to get support. It's also unusual because the workers themselves started the union from the ground up. It wasn't formed from above, which is what you almost always see otherwise. Last – but not least – it's the first time I've ever seen a group of workers at a factory in China go direct to a union abroad for help,' says Dr. Chan to the newsletter of Danish union, 3F.

Contact with Wal-Mart union

’We almost exhausted all means, including judicial, administrative, media, the Internet etc, to stand up for our rights but still unable to make the company to comply with the laws' wrote acting union president Jiang Qianqiu in a letter to Danish unions in April this year. Since then, 3F has been trying to convince Ole Wolff to meet worker demands – so far without luck.

At one point, the workers at the factory contacted the local union for the supermarket chain Wal-Mart in the Jiangxi province to exchange experiences with them about conditions at foreign-owned factories.

'Something is happening on the Chinese labour market. Workers no longer just take orders from above; they take the initiative on their own. I think it’s a principle conflict at the Ole Wolff factory,' says Dr. Chan.

Ole Wolff Electronics is an international manufacturing and trade company with headquarters in Sor¯, Denmark, and subsidiaries in Europe, Asia and the USA. The company makes speakers, microphones and other components, and its factory in China has 100 employees.

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