Fighting for Migrant Labor Rights in the World's Factory: legitimacy, resource constraints and strategies of grassroots migrant labor NGOs in South China

Alex Jingwei He, Genghua HUANG

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)

14 Citations (Scopus)


China's dizzying economic achievement is not mirrored in its labor rights protection record. Migrant workers in particular do not enjoy rights commensurate with their contribution to the economy. The pervasive infringement of labor rights and the failure of the official protective system have jointly created a niche for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). This article investigates the grassroots migrant labor NGOs in the Pearl River Delta region, an area which has seen unprecedented increases in labor disputes both in terms of quantity and intensity. Making extensive use of in-depth interviews and participatory observations, it examines the strategies and tactics NGOs use for survival and growth in a hostile external environment. This article reveals that administrative illegitimacy and resource shortage have been the two key challenges for grassroots NGOs; in order to survive, they have developed a series of strategies to enhance legitimacy and explore resources. In the meantime, however, antagonistic thinking still drives the government's response to grassroots organizations unless the latter can skillfully balance political ideology and actual operation. Yet, overall, most NGOs still managed to survive despite various difficulties. Reciprocity and mutual trust are of critical importance to peaceful coexistence, if not cooperation, between the state and the grassroots. The building of long-term healthy labor relations in China necessitates more liberal thinking and collaborative governance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)471-492
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Contemporary China
Issue number93
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2015
Externally publishedYes


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