In a set of unprecedented actions, workers in China went on wildcat strikes at three Walmart locations in China, one after another, in chain reaction fashion.
The mobile messaging app “WeChat” helped organize the strikes at locations over 900 miles apart.
Chinese leaders are already worried about social unrest due to the commodities crash and overcapacity in steel production that led to layoffs.
These strikes will heighten official fears about more labor unrest.
The Financial Times reports Walmart Workers Launch Wildcat Strikes Across China.
Walmart staff across China have launched a series of wildcat strikes against the company’s new working-hours system, in an unprecedented bout of nationwide co-ordination by workers.
Employees in one store in the southern city of Nanchang went on strike last Friday. By Monday the action had spread to a second store in Nanchang and to stores in Chengdu 1,500km away and Harbin in the country’s north-east.
“We will continue the strike until the company gives a satisfactory reply,” said Duan Yu, who works at the Walmart store in Bayi Square, Nanchang.
The strike has realised the Communist party’s fear of co-ordinated cross-country labour unrest just as China prepares to lay off millions of workers as a result of the industrial slowdown. The number of worker disputes in the country has soared in recent years, doubling from 2014 to reach 2,774 protests in 2015, according to China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based workers’ rights organisation.
“It is unprecedented for workers to organise this way,” said Anita Chan, a professor of sociology at Australian National University. “Most strikes are in one workplace. This is different — Walmart has many stores in China and uses the same management methods in all the stores. So these workers understand everyone’s situation: they are all the same.”
The rapid organisation of strikes has been helped by the mobile messaging platform WeChat. Zhang Jun, a former electrician at the Walmart store in Yantai City, Shandong, was one of several workers who set up the first Walmart Chinese Workers’ Association WeChat group.
WCWA has since multiplied into more than 40 WeChat groups, with about 20,000 members — a fifth of Walmart’s workforce in China — despite members suffering threats from Walmart management, according to Mr Zhang.
The wildcat strikes in China will play directly into union drives and protests against Walmart in the US.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock