Aims and objectives
Provide practical help and encouragement to workers in China engaged in collective struggle. Enhance the ability of workers to engage in collective bargaining with their employer. Encourage worker activists to see themselves as trade unionists and stand for election in their enterprise trade union.
Create a network of democratically-elected trade union representatives in key industries such as manufacturing and retail. Establish a firm base for collective bargaining by trade union representatives in individual enterprises and gradually enlarge that base to link-up enterprises in the same region and industrial sector.
Establish a viable and stable collective bargaining mechanism across different industries and regions of China. Facilitate the transformation of the official trade union into a federation of industry unions that can effectively represent a wide range of workers in bargaining with specific industry representatives.
CLB is based in Hong Kong but operates through a coalition of partner organizations and individuals across mainland China. CLB’s main role is to manage and coordinate the work of our partners, ensure they have the resources they need to carry out their work, and provide strategic guidance and technical expertise as and when required.
Our partners include individual labour activists and lawyers as well as several well-established civil-society organizations with decades of experience in labour relations. Our coalition members’ work can be broadly divided into four main areas:
- Collective bargaining. CLB’s partners have participated in nearly one hundred collective bargaining cases. We have developed a Collective Bargaining Handbook and conducted numerous trainings for workers across China. Our partners are widely acknowledged to be the experts in the field of collective bargaining and they have been active in promoting the collective bargaining agenda to government and policy makers, academics and the domestic Chinese media.
- Trade union organizing. CLB has produced an unprecedented amount of Chinese-language training material based on the experience and expertise of international trade unions, which is used in training sessions for workers and labour activists. CLB has also arranged for Chinese workers to attend international trade union conferences and for international trade unionists to meet face to face with workers in China.
- Labour rights litigation. CLB has been providing workers with legal assistance in their disputes with employers and local government since 2003. Our current focus is to help reinstate workers who have been fired for organizing collective actions, assist workers with pneumoconiosis (China’s most prevalent occupational disease) in obtaining the compensation they deserve, and take on ground-breaking cases of employment discrimination, which will ultimately create a fairer more equal workplace in China.
- South-South solidarity. In the future, CLB will increasingly focus on bringing the experience of China’s workers in collective bargaining to workers in other Asian countries who are now subject to the same pressures from multi-national corporations that China was a decade ago.
How does the All-China Federation of Trade Unions fit into the picture?
The All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is China’s sole legally mandated trade union. It claims to be the “world’s largest trade union,” with around 288 million members and more than one million full-time officials. The structure of the ACFTU reflects the hierarchical administration of the Chinese Communist Party and regional government: ACFTU officials are essentially government bureaucrats with little understanding of the needs of workers or how to represent them in negotiations with management. At the enterprise-level, the vast majority of unions are controlled by management and represent the interests of management. Only very occasionally will an enterprise trade union actually support workers against management.
China’s workers have demonstrated time and time again that they now have both the will and the ability to organize and to defend their interests through collective action without the help of the official trade union. However, if the workers’ movement in China is to develop beyond what is currently a series of isolated wild cat strikes, it needs a strong and effective trade union to create and maintain solidarity and give the movement both foundation and direction. Setting up an independent trade union would invite swift retaliation and suppression by the Chinese authorities. As such, the only realistic option is to work through the existing system by changing the ACFTU from the ground up.
CLB has no working relationship with or any direct contact with the ACFTU. Instead, we work with grassroots worker leaders and activists in China who have both the ability and standing to become good trade unionists. It is the aim of CLB and our coalition partners to help these workers take part in democratic trade union elections and show for the first time that trade unionists in Chinese enterprises can represent their members and push for improved pay and conditions through collective bargaining with management. By working with these activists, and by expanding the discussion among government officials, policy advisors and labour scholars about the role of the trade union in China, CLB hopes to assist in the necessary and urgent task of trade union reform.
From our base in Hong Kong, CLB gives international trade unionists a unique insight into the latest developments in China’s workers’ movement and provides opportunities for dialogue and collaboration that can enhance international solidarity.
CLB hopes to eliminate some of the most common misconceptions about workers in China; that they are either “stealing” the jobs of workers in the West, or are pitiful victims of multi-national corporations in need of charitable aid. The reality is that China’s workers are now at the forefront of the international labour movement. China is one of the few countries in the world where workers have actually gained ground over the last few years, and workers there can share valuable experiences of organizing and maintaining solidarity against obdurate employers. However, China’s real trade union movement is still at an embryonic stage and workers still have much to learn from the long history of the international trade union movement.
CLB’s website and social media platforms are designed to allow workers and trade unionists across the world to come together and forge greater international solidarity.
- We report the latest news from the workers’ movement in China and provide in-depth coverage on worker activism and collective bargaining, trade union organizing and workplace safety.
- We explain the key issues in China’s labour relations in China, and provide detailed, up to date information on wages, employment, social security, workplace discrimination and the labour dispute resolution system in China.
- We analyse legal cases that show how ordinary workers are standing up for their rights and taking on their employer in court.
- CLB’s bi-lingual, interactive Strike Map shows just how active and widespread workers collective action really is with more than 5,000 strikes and protests logged since 2011.
- The Work Accident Map illustrates the hazards that workers have to deal with on a daily basis, and pinpoints the most dangerous industries in China.
- If you want to get in touch, learn more about CLB or the workers’ movement in China, or simply offer your support, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us via Facebook or Twitter.
A short history of China Labour Bulletin
Or why China Labour Bulletin is called China Labour Bulletin
CLB was first established in Hong Kong in 1994 as a bi-lingual, monthly newsletter designed to inform international trade unionists of events inside China and to let Chinese workers know about domestic labour news and the role of trade unions. The Chinese version of the newsletter initially mimicked official newspapers such as the Workers Daily (工人月报) or Reference News (劳工参考消息) before being published under its own name China Labour Bulletin (中国劳工通讯). See photo left.
In 1998, CLB’s founder and executive director Han Dongfang started broadcasting on Radio Free Asia. His program, the Labour Bulletin (劳工通讯) gave Han the opportunity to talk directly to workers in mainland China and for the first time influence events on the ground rather than just reporting them.
The radio program also gave CLB the chance to work with lawyers in China who were willing to take on the cases of the aggrieved workers Han interviewed. The internet was just getting established in China in the early 2000s and this allowed CLB to create a small but dedicated network of lawyers across the country, including well known human rights lawyer Gao Zhisheng who represented the workers at the Stella Shoe factories in Dongguan in 2004.
By 2005, CLB realised that while taking on individual legal cases could make a difference, there were simply too many cases of labour rights violations in China for any one organization to handle. CLB took the tactical decision to focus instead on developing the collective bargaining capacity of China’s workers as a means of resolving labour disputes before they escalated into conflict. While the received wisdom at the time was that you cannot have collective bargaining without freedom of association, CLB took the view that this approach was simply not a practical option in China given the ACFTU’s monopoly.
Initial success was limited due to worker apathy and a lack of knowledge about unions and collective bargaining. It was not until 2011, when several hundred workers at the Citizen Watch factory in Shenzhen went on strike and demanded collective bargaining with management that the program really began to gain traction.
The first half of the 2010s was a period of rapid expansion for CLB in which we forged new partnerships with labour activists in mainland China. We also developed new initiatives in international and domestic media and communications, including our online maps, and trade union education programs. The Chinese government’s crackdown on civil society organizations that began in 2014 and escalated in 2015 has made the operating environment more challenging for CLB and its project partners. However, CLB remains committed to supporting the workers’ movement in China and in creating genuine trade unions that can take the movement to the next level.
What is CLB's legal status?
China Labour Bulletin is registered as a limited company in Hong Kong. However, it operates as a non-profit organization and does not retain any income that has not been spent on core costs and project work. In addition, CLB has a sister organization, Friends of China Labour Bulletin, which is a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt, non-profit organization based in the United States, set up to facilitate fund-raising in the United States.
How is CLB funded?
CLB receives grants from a wide range of government or quasi-government bodies, trade unions and private foundations based outside China. Some grants are for specific projects, while others cover CLB’s core operating costs.
Office address: Room 808 New Kowloon Plaza, 38 Tai Kok Tsui Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR, China.
Address in Chinese: 香港,九龙,大角咀道38号, 新九龙广场.
(See map and video below)
Executive Director. Han Dongfang
Deputy Director. Cai Chongguo
Development Director. Eric Sautede
Development and Operations Manager. Valerie Nichols
Communications Director. Geoffrey Crothall
Please see this short video for directions to the office from Olympic MTR station.