This essay outlines the three stages of Chinese capitalist development in the 1980s through the 2000s and discusses how labor politics played out differently in each of the three stages and helped shape the next stage. Whence the erosion of living standards of urban workers amid out-of-control inflation and corruption in the late 1980s led to workers’ participation in the 1989 democratic movement, the full-fledged neoliberal reforms implemented by the post-1989 authoritarian state in the 1990s urged many laid-off workers in state enterprises to take to the streets. In the wake of these struggles by the declining rank of socialist state workers was the surge of militant resistance by the new working class in the export sector after China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001. Whereas local states and private manufacturers colluded to repress these new workers’ struggles, the center of the Chinese Communist Party, concerned about social stability and rebalancing China’s economy through raising workers’ share of income and consumption, has increasingly sided with the struggling workers to contain the alliance between local states and private capital. The outcome of this new labor politics will be a key factor in determining the Chinese model of development in the years to come.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.