Chinese Union Plans Branches At Major U.S. Firms In China

According to the People’s Daily newspaper, there are over 300 companies from the Fortune 500 in southern China.

HONG KONG (AP) – The state-sanctioned Chinese union federation in the southern province Guangdong, a key manufacturing base, aims this year to establish branches at all major U.S. companies with operations in the region, state media has reported.

Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions aims to “set up unions at all the more than 300 companies from the Fortune 500 in Guangdong,” the official People’s Daily newspaper reported Sunday, referring to America’s largest companies as ranked by Fortune magazine.

The union group also plans to add more than 1 million members and to set up unions at 80 percent of foreign companies and 60 percent of private companies, the report said.

The All-China Federation of Trade Unions, or ACFTU, the national umbrella group for government-approved unions, is in the midst of a campaign to boost the group’s presence in foreign companies, which employ some 25 million people in China but until recently resisted allowing labor organizing.

It has made progress, persuading Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in August to help set up unions at its 62 Chinese outlets. ACFTU said earlier this month one of its affiliated unions has set up at a factory owned by Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group in the Guangdong city of Shenzhen on Dec. 31.

Current figures for union presence in Guangdong weren’t immediately available. A man who answered the phone at the press office of the Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions declined to be interviewed, saying he needed approval from the provincial government’s external affairs department.

Official Chinese unions are seen more as a tool of government control than an advocate for labor rights. ACFTU says its goal is to prevent disputes between workers and management.

Seeking to assure foreign companies, Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions Chairman Tang Weiying was paraphrased as saying in the Yangcheng Evening News’ website Monday that Chinese unions “don’t protect rights for the sake of protecting rights, but rather mobilize the initiative of workers to promote the development of enterprises.”

“Many foreign companies are afraid of setting up unions because they were scared off” by unions in their home countries, Tang was quoted as saying.

The ACFTU has set a national goal of organizing unions at 70 percent of foreign companies this year after meeting its goal of 60 percent in a campaign launched in 2006.

China has about 300,000 foreign-funded enterprises with 25 million employees, or more than 10 percent o its urban workforce, according to government statistics.

Unions affiliated with the ACFTU represent about 150 million Chinese workers. The government does not allow independent labor organizing and activists are frequently jailed and harassed.

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