retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times this morning reports that "as the Chinese economy has slowed, strikes and labor protests have broken out across the country, mostly scattered episodes targeting a single factory or business. The government has responded aggressively, detaining activists and increasing censorship to keep unrest from spreading."

But it's even been worse at Walmart, where activism against its more than 400 stores "has followed a different pattern: workers in several cities agitating against the same company, bypassing official unions controlled by the Communist Party and using social media to coordinate their actions — while the authorities largely stand aside ... They have appealed to local officials with patriotic fervor, invoking the struggles of Mao Zedong against foreign imperialists. They have posted screeds online against unkind bosses and 'union puppets'.

"In doing so, the Chinese work force of the world’s largest retail chain has put the ruling Communist Party in an uncomfortable position, publicly testing its Marxist commitment to defend the working class and pitting that against its fear of independent labor activism ... Chinese law requires businesses to establish labor unions, but they are almost always controlled by management, and companies generally use the unions to contain worker activism. In the face of labor strife, some businesses have offered back pay, bonuses and other benefits to workers.
But others, concerned that labor activism could force costly concessions, have resorted to tougher tactics, retaliating against those who help organize protests.

"At Walmart, some of the most vocal workers have been deprived of raises, reassigned, or in some cases fired, according to interviews with more than a dozen employees."
KC's View:
You have to figure that at some level the folks at Walmart figured the one place where they wouldn't face labor issues would be China. Life is full of surprises, many of them unpleasant ... and now it would appear that employees in China are going to apply a little western pressure to the business there. (Though it seems unlikely that in Bentonville anyone will refer to management as "imperialist dogs.")