Recently, the city of Dongguan in the Pearlriver-delta saw the biggest strike of migrant workers so far. As many as 50,000 workers took part in the strike at Yue Yuen ((裕元) shoe factories. Owned by the Taiwanese Pou Chen Group, Yue Yuen is one of the biggest contract manufacturers in the world for shoes. Its factories in China, Indonesia, and Vietnam produce for all big brands like Adidas, Nike, or Reebok.
The strike in the Yue-Yuen-factories in Dongguan started when workers found out that the company had not paid the full contributions into the obligatory social insurance fund for years, resulting in low pension payments. Other reasons included the low wages (around 2,200 to 2,800 RMB for line workers, including overtime and bonuses) and a general dissatisfaction with the work stress. The majority of line workers are women, many with a few years of work experience in the company.
After a few hundred workers had blocked a bridge in protest on April 5, the Yue Yuen management did not react. As a result, thousands of workers went on strike on April 14. A demonstration on the same day was attacked by the cops, and workers were arrested. The strike spread to other Yue-Yuen-factories in Donguan in the following days and later to one in Jiangxi province. The official union ACFTU intervened and tried to stop the strike. Yue Yuen made some promises, including a 230-RMB-living allowance and the payment of the full social insurance contributions, but the strike continued.
On April 24, the company increased the pressure, with the support of the police which stationed troops inside the factories. A worker said: "What can you do if a man with shield, baton and helmet is standing next to you?" By April 28, most workers had returned to work.
Before the strike, Yue Yuen had already shifted production to inland provinces or outside China in reaction to rising labor costs on the Chinese east coast, and during the strike Adidas moved orders to other suppliers – another case of the increasing relocation of low-profit-industries out of the region.
For the workers, this strike was another example for the difficulties they are facing (repression, anti-strike efforts of the police/state, the union, the employers), but it also showed the increasing ability of workers in the industrial zones of China to organize and fight back. As a worker said after the strike: "In the early stage of the strike, workers even hoped the government could help mediate in the dispute but they saw the government's true colors when the union's intervention intensified the suppression. They are the hatchet men and running dogs of the employer. The fire was put out but the embers remain and it will ignite again. And in the next strike we will definitely be better organized and combat-ready!"
See the English translation of the quoted worker interview on: http://www.clb.org.hk/en/content/defeat-will-only-make-us-stronger-workers-look-back-yue-yuen-shoe-factory-strike