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Saturday, June 19, 2010

China catches up

By Boston Herald Editorial Staff


China’s industrial workers have started striking again for higher wages, notably at Honda plants. Yes, you read that right.

Chinese factory owners long have been able to pay rock-bottom wages. Life in the countryside was so grinding that young people fled to industrial areas whenever they got the chance.

Often living in dormitories, their lives highly regimented by management down to the number and timing of bathroom breaks, the workers sent much of their wages to their parents back on the farm

That was then. Today factory workers know they can live in a real apartment. (China has a real estate bubble of its own.) Mom and dad are doing better; the worker has a little money to spend and believes he or she deserves more.

It’s exactly the sequence of events that started in Britain in the Industrial Revolution of the late 1700s and the United States in the 1870s.

Some factory owners may be able to move to Vietnam, Cambodia or Sri Lanka. But an automobile transmission plant is hard to move; stoppage of production is extremely costly and replacement workers may be unwilling to face strikers. The Honda strikers have been winning wage increases.

In any developing country, labor costs tend to rise. Forty years ago complaints about low-wage Japanese workers stealing American jobs were common; recently an hour’s labor in Japanese manufacturing has ranged from 80 percent to 100 percent of the cost of an hour in the United States. Down the road the Chinese may complain about low-wage Sri Lankans.

It’s all part of what we call progress

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