The recent Olympic Games have been a great showcase for the new ascendant Chinese capitalism.
In the 1990s an unrestrained process of privatization of state companies and liberalization of public services took place. Nowadays, two thirds of wage-earners work already for private capital. At the beginning of the 21st century,
They are few on the left, luckily, who have illusions in the Chinese model. But it should be clear that agree that thirty years of reform have created a wildcat capitalism without restraint. And this it is the horizon towards which the country is heading, in spite of the rhetoric about a “harmonious society” from President Hu Jintao. The increasing evidence of the social and environmental disasters caused by the present model of accumulation has caused changes in the official rhetoric and adjustments in the policies to contain imbalances, but not a modification of the general course.
The capitalist restoration has been piloted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) whose ideology and nature have been transformed. Nationalism has become the main element of the discourse and identity of the CCP and is used as a cohesive and legitimating factor in its political project. Hence the strategic importance of the Games.
The social base of the Chinese regime is the new emergent bourgeoisie, related to the apparatus of the State and the Party, and a significant urban middle-class, which also includes the most qualified sectors of the wage-earners, and many civil servants and members of the state apparatus.
The working-class has experienced deep transformations. And workers in the public sector, 20% of the active population, have been hard hit by the big wave of privatizations, that have eliminated 40% of public sector jobs. This fraction of the working class has seen the social guarantees of the Maoist period eroded. In parallel, a new fraction of the working-class has emerged, formed by rural migrants to the city and concentrated in the export oriented industries of the east coast and the
Their living and working conditions form the bitterest face of the new Chinese capitalism. Low wages, interminable working hours, lack of health and safety at work and violation of the labour laws on the part of many companies and their subcontractors comprise their daily reality. The official union federation, the only legal one, lacks autonomy in relation to the state, is subordinate to the enterprise interests and is not a real instrument of defence for workers.
Against this background, it is no wonder that social struggles have increased from the end of the 1990s. Nevertheless, these are still very fragmented and isolated and due to the iron repression they do not leave any organizational consequences behind them. Convergences between the mobilizations of the workers of the state sector with those of the immigrant working class do not exist. The same is true of the numerous protests in the rural world and the urban areas.
To support these emergent struggles in
* Josep Maria Antentas is a member of the editorial board of the magazine Viento Sur, and teaches sociology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona.
Esther Vivas is the author of the books in Spanish “Stand up against the external debt” and co-coordinator of “Supermarkets, no thanks” and “Where is fair trade headed?”. She is a member of the editorial board of Viento Sur (www.vientosur.info).
** This article first appeared in Spanish in the newspaper “Publico” on September 7th 2008 and was published in English at InternationalViewPoint.