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From insurgency to movement: an embryonic counterhegemonic labor movement in South China

Li, Chunyun (2020) From insurgency to movement: an embryonic counterhegemonic labor movement in South China. Industrial and Labor Relations Review. ISSN 0019-7939

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This paper provides a new analysis of Chinese labor politics. Most scholars suggest that there is no labor movement in China because Chinese labor protests are apolitical, cellular, and short-lived, and thus inconsistent with the properties of social movements identified in the political process model. In contrast, the author draws on Gramsci’s ideas regarding counterhegemonic movements and on ethnographic and archival research to demonstrate that the activities of movement-oriented labor NGOs (MLNGOs) coupled with associated labor protests since 2011 constituted the embryo of a counterhegemonic labor movement. MLNGOs have reworked the hegemonic labor law system to undermine the regime’s legal atomization of workers, nurtured worker leaders as organic intellectuals of migrant workers to temporarily substitute for impotent workplace unions, and developed alternative organizational networks of labor organizing that challenged monopolistic union bureaucracy. This incipient counterhegemonic movement persisted several years after state repression in late 2015 but was curtailed by another wave of repression in January 2019. The very severity of state repression suggests that a counterhegemonic movement has been formed.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2020 Cornell University
Divisions: Management
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Date Deposited: 27 Aug 2019 14:15
Last Modified: 22 Aug 2020 18:06

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