China: Still the Workers’ Paradise, Really!

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My colleague Lin Yang writes:

Being a member of the “working class” in the People’s Republic (aka “workers’ paradise”) is no longer what it was 50 years ago. The “iron rice bowl” has been broken, many have been laid off during the reform of the huge state enterprises a decade ago and those who do have jobs usually labor long hours just to make ends meet. But it may be some small comfort to know that, according to China’s national news agency Xinhua anyway, workers remain the real rulers of the country.

It is an interest time for Xinhua to revisit the issue of the status of the working class in China, especially when there is mounting discontent from the supposed “ruling class” over unemployment, raging corruption, party officials’ abuse of power, and soaring living expenses. What’s even more remarkable is that the Xinhua report seems to be the government’s subtle way of acknowledging the potential danger posed by that building frustration and reassuring workers across the country—some  400 million–that the authorities will take immediate steps to address the problems. “The Gini coefficient in China has reached 0.46 and the gap between rich and poor is still expanding. Many of the 100 million population with the lowest income are workers,” says the article. But the “Chinese Communist Party is well aware of the situation and is working hard to create more job opportunities and expand social security coverage in response.”

The article even reflects upon the fall of the Soviet Union and attributes its disintegration to the Soviet Communist Party losing support of the working class. It quotes a survey conducted before the fall showing only 4% of the surveyed still considered that the party still represented the working class, 11% considered it represented party members and 85% considered it represented the interests of party cadres.

It is indeed about time for the CCP to restore the working class to its past glory– for the party’s own good. With the faltering economy, strikes and labor unrest have become daily news and brutal crackdowns are no longer enough to put out the flames. In the past month, we have seen local level governments coughing up large chunks of cash to pay back salaries of laid off workers and making compromises with taxi drivers on strike.

But seems like Xinhua also knows it’s making a weak argument. At the end of the article, some CCP political analysts are quoted saying the working class’ ruling status is a general political assessment and does not necessarily reflect personal experience of any member of the working class. In another word, workers, you may own the country but don’t expect to get a piece of it.