Rising Labor Militancy In Asia, Is This A Trend?

Cambodian workers attend a rally during a strike last week at the Chinese-owned Pine Great Cambodia Garment Co. in Phnom Penh. (Chor Sokunthea, Reuters / September 12, 2010)

In the wake of the garment workers strikes in Cambodia that have involved the walkout of 30,000 – 60,000 workers at factories supplying a number of international brands (Adidas, GAP, Puma), there is talk in the press about increased labor militancy in Asia.  This AFP article (“Global brands face growing labour militancy in Asia“) points to protests in Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, and India as making up a trend of rising labor militancy.  This comes about a month after the Financial Times also ran a very similar article on increased labor militancy in Asia.

While one can point to newsworthy labor protests in the past year in many countries in South & Southeast Asia, it’s still worth raising the question of whether this is a “trend” or not.  Can we say that minimum wage protests in Indonesia, garment worker strikes in Cambodia, and autoworker strikes in China are part of the same phenomenon?

I won’t be so bold as to attempt to answer this question.  I must admit I was initially skeptical, particularly when the AFP article’s Indonesian example was minimum wage protests on May Day, which might be consider a run-of-the-mill, annual occurrence.  However, it will interesting to continue watching the coverage for evidence that this is a trend.  For example, to the credit of the Financial Times article, they do put forward one possible cause, the rising prices of basic goods.

Also of interest is a quote in an LATimes article on the Cambodian garment strikes from Ath Thun,  president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, which puts it in similar terms:

Those protests [in other countries] encouraged us.  Garment workers in those countries received more wages when they protested, so we thought we should too, since our wages are also unacceptably low.

In the coming weeks, it will be interesting to see how this is covered and arguments about the cause of what some are calling a trend in labor militancy in Asia.

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