Hoffa to China: A global union movement?

Scott Tong May 18, 2007


LISA NAPOLI:China’s central bank says it’s loosening its controls on how fast the currency gains against the dollar. China’s traditionally kept the its currency undervalued to sell more stuff abroad. The Bush Administration’s pressured Beijing to let the yuan rise, which could help shrink the trade deficit.

Could American-style unions be coming to China? Teamsters president James Hoffa paid a visit to Hong Kong today — I talked to our reporter Scott Tong about what the labor leader is hoping to achieve:

SCOTT TONG:Well, as he describes it, it’s a fact-finding mission. They came to visit workers in China, to talk to them. And, as I’m experiencing, there’s a lot to learn when half of this giant country lives on less than $2 a day.

NAPOLI:Scott, how do unions work in China now? Are there unions? How does it operate?

TONG:Well, there’s one game in town — it’s called the All-China Federation of Trade Unions. And there’s no collective bargaining, there’s no going on strike… kind of a pretend labor union organization.

NAPOLI:So Scott, I don’t get why, at this moment in time, Hoffa’s come to town.


Well, there are a couple of answers, I think. One is that this is the moment in the global economy when capital is global, when companies are global. Workers have to be global. In other words, they say there’s this race to the bottom — where companies will be looking for the cheapest places to operate — and workers have to start to work together.

It’s also an interesting moment right now in China. There is a labor contract law that’s under consideration now and it may pass as early as next month. The upshot of it is it will put some teeth into the promise that employees can have a contract with their employer. So American unions have gotten into this.

And what’s interesting is, they think the multinational companies are trying to gut this law in China, trying to oppose it. But the American Chamber of Commerce and others would disagree with that characterization. And the fact is, everyone in this debate says multinational companies do the right thing in China.

NAPOLI:That’s our Scott Tong in Shanghai.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.