Rebalancing China’s Emergent Capitalism

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Kyoto (2014)


he paper will take a closer look at recent trends of industrial restructuring and the changing regimes of production in the automotive sector in China. After the massive downsizing of the traditional state-owned car makers in the 1990s the industry has seen tremendous growth of production volumes along with accelerated restructuring under the lean production paradigm. A bifurcated system of labor relations had been established in which the key assembly firms owned by joint ventures of global brand-name carmakers and Chinese state-owned holding companies provide relatively stable and well-paid manufacturing jobs for urban residents. Suppliers at the various levels of the “pyramid” pay much lower wages and employ large amounts of rural migrant workers – a situation which had triggered substantial labor conflicts such as the strike wave in the auto industry in South China in 2010.
In the wake of the global financial and economic crisis 2008-09 the industry has seen another round of restructuring characterized by rapid expansion and diversification of production networks, the emergence of new greenfield locations, and by increased productivity pressures and flexibilization of working conditions in core factories. The expansion of the industry has strengthened the role of China’s state-owned auto corporations within existing and new joint ventures and their paternalistic-authoritarian labor practices. At the same time, multinationals are seeking higher productivity and flexibility to remedy impending slower growth rates and overcapacities. As a result, the prevailing corporate-bureaucratic regimes production are increasingly transformed into high-performance regimes with highly flexible workforces.
The paper will explore these trends with regard to the socio-economic rebalancing of China’s emerging variety of state-penetrated capitalism and the shifting balance between older and newer industrial regions. We will present data from recent field work in South China’s Pearl River Delta and emerging auto industry centers in Chongqing and Sichuan province. The changing relations of political and social power will be examined with regards to the future development of labor relations and new models of “negotiated involvement” based on greater independence of trade unions, democratic workplace representation, and collective bargaining, as recently proposed by the government of Guangdong province.

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Concéption Tommaso Pardi
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