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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: State-run newspapers in China today reported the government plans to force Wal-Mart and other foreign firms to allow employees to join a union. In a country with a reputation for exploitive working conditions, this might sound like a victory for the little guy but Marketplace's Jocelyn Ford says think again.

JOCELYN FORD: China allows only one labor union and it's run by the Communist Party. It has little in common with unions as Americans know them. For example, It doesn't help workers get higher salaries.

Lawyer Lester Ross:

LESTER ROSS:"They do not organize and bargain for their members. Instead they police the employees' political activities."

And they arrange social outings, like trips to the Great Wall. But as state run companies decline, the trade union is losing relevance. Few private companies have branches.

Labor lawyer Andreas Lauffs says the Chinese government worries its only a matter of time before private sector workers start forming illegal unions.

ANDREAS LAUFFS: "Their biggest fear if labor unions would be set up independently would be direct threat to the Communist Party."

He says the Communist Party is going after foreign companies first because they make an easier target.

In Beijing, I'm Jocelyn Ford for Marketplace.