chapter  10
24 Pages

Young Chinese Workers, Contentious Politics, and Cyberactivism in the Global Factory


On May 8, 2012, a thousand workers, about a third of those employed at a shoe factory in Dongguan in the Pearl River Delta in China, walked out on strike over management’s slashing of their performance bonus. Getting no response from the company, a young worker posted a photo to his weibo or microblogging page to generate public support and media attention. 1 Within an hour, the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin posted the story, which was then picked up by local labor activists and reporters, and retweeted more than 50 times. By the next day, after local government mediation, management agreed to restore more than half the bonus. 2

The Dongguan strikers are part of an emerging movement of young migrant workers whose protests in low-and high-end global factories number in the thousands per year. 3 Led by the very young, many still in their teens, their action repertoires combine on-and offl ine communications practices on the shop fl oor, in company-run dormitories, urban public space and cyberspace. Marginalized for their rural origins, with little representation in government or the dominant media, they represent themselves through their own do-it-yourself (DIY) media, poetry and song, and factory-level organization. Net-savvy, they organize and mobilize support through social media, the preexisting kin and friendship social networks of their rural home regions, and a growing labor solidarity network.