Labour NGOs have played a role, especially in southern China, in raising Chinese workers’ consciousness. This paper takes a historical perspective and argues that the relationship between labour NGOs and workers has changed in the past three decades, from one of workers’ dependency on Chinese labour NGOs and these NGOs’ dependency, in turn, on foreign NGOs in an asymmetrical relationship, to one more of partnership.
More recently, some groups of workers have become cognisant of a divergence of interests between themselves and NGO advisors. The evolving relationship is analysed against the backdrop of an authoritarian political regime that necessitates all the actors to strategise in complex ways. A coordinated wave of strikes and other collective actions at Chinese Walmart stores in 2016 provides a case study.