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A post-riot look at PRD migrant workers

Posted: 06/30/2011 1:06 am

Reuters interviewed dozens of migrants on the outskirts of Guangzhou for its report today which looks at the work, life and aftermath for young workers in Xintang town following three days of rioting in several villages there earlier this month.

What began as a not-so-uncommon backlash after a pregnant woman from Sichuan province was roughed up by authorities for selling jeans on the sidewalk quickly turned into a roving street battle between out-of-province workers and local Cantonese after the young rioters went from burning police cars to burning any cars and smashing shop windows.

Of those interviewed, Reuters reporters James Pomfret and Chris Buckley write:

This generation does not share the self-sacrificing ethos of their farmer parents. They are jacked into the World Wide Web, they text like their cohorts elsewhere in the world, and their walks through the streets of Chinese cities are a direct education in the gaps in income and privilege that irk them.
“Our mentality is different from our parents’. We don’t save money like they did,” said Li Bin, a 20-year-old worker in Dongguan, who sported a mullet haircut and an earring.
“We spend it as we make it, spend it on ourselves — restaurants, the Internet, karaoke. But in their time, people were simpler. They were saving money so they could come home.”
“I’d never go back to farming,” cut in Li’s friend, Fang Wuping. “If you threatened to kill me, I wouldn’t. If you’re a farmer, people despise you, look down on you,” he said.

Savvy in their own right, but not without some serious resentment as well. Also interviewed for the report was 20-year-old Hunanese Zheng Chao, found at a recruitment stall for the marginally employed in a rural area outside Shenzhen. “It’s normal here for people to take a beating inside the factory and outside,” Zheng said. “What we need is our own Chairman Mao. He was a migrant worker too.”

Zheng’s attitude reflects the findings of Huang Yan, a researcher at Guangzhou’s South China Normal University who studies unrest among migrants working in the Pearl River Delta. Huang likens their situation to a dormant volcano and says an eruption is just a matter of time: “I’m not saying that this is a volcano that will erupt across the entire country, but in areas where migrant workers are concentrated, there are accumulated tensions.”

Also mentioned by Reuters is a report from the All-China Federation of Trade Unions which wrote that part of the changing attitudes among younger workers who migrate to the PRD is increasingly modern thinking about their rights. The jobs are here—more than can be filled, according to some reports—and wages have risen even since 2008, and many like Fang above still find life here better than back on the farm. Factoring in central government incentives to move factories inland, though, along with rapidly increasing commodity prices and all those stories you’ve heard about Taiwanese factory bosses, probably means Huang’s volcano isn’t going to cool down any time soon.

More from Reuters on what the ACFTU wrote:

“There are signs that their mode of defending their rights is shifting from individual to collective action,” the report said, noting a survey that found over half of migrant workers born after 1980 said they would be willing to join in “collective action” to defend their personal interests.

Also see this June 28 Q&A from Reuters: Who are China’s young rural migrants and what do they want?

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