Legal activism or class action? : The political economy of the "no boss" and "no labour relationship" in China's construction industry

Ngai PUN, Yi XU

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

This article aims to study an issue of “double absence” embedded in the rapidly changing construction industry and to explore how it induces serious collective action among construction workers in post-socialist China. The political economy of the construction industry has shaped a specific labour use system – a labour subcontracting system. The system generates a specific capital-labour relationship in which the legal labour identity and labour relationship are highly subsumed by an “absent” employer. It creates a double absence in legal terms: an “absent” boss and an “absent” labour relationship. This double absence has led to a perpetual process of wage arrears and struggles by construction workers to pursue delayed wages in various ways, usually involving legal action or non-legal collective action. The findings of this study are drawn from case studies conducted between 2008 and 2009 in seven Chinese cities. The labour struggle – the fight for delayed payment – was understood not as a form of legal labour activism, but as incipient class action in a specific context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-17
Number of pages9
JournalChina Perspectives
Volume2011
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2011
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Chinese construction workers
  • Class action
  • Labour subcontract system
  • Legal activism

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