June 8, 2004
Group: Workers Likely Won't Be Unionized
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 6:13 p.m. ET
DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) -- As General
Motors Corp. and other top automakers prepare to invest billions of
dollars in China, international labor leaders paint a bleak picture for
the prospect of organized representation for auto workers there. Labor
officials say that's likely to mean low wages and poor working
``The Chinese government is engaged in a systematic campaign to repress
legitimate trade union activity in order to suppress wages and attract
foreign capital,'' Ron Gettelfinger, the president of the United Auto
Workers union, said Tuesday in remarks to the International
Metalworkers' Federation World Auto Council.
Roughly 200 union officials representing auto workers in 25 countries
are meeting through Thursday in this Detroit suburb to discuss
strategies for dealing with industry changes, such as the outsourcing
of jobs in some regions and rapid expansion taking place in Asia.
In particular, China's economy is expected to grow at an annual rate of
9.8 percent in the first half of this year, and auto sales are strong.
Since 1996, global automakers have pumped more than $12 billion into
Chinese automotive operations, according to the IMF, and the spending
GM, the world's largest automaker, said Monday it plans to invest $3
billion over the next three years in China, which is poised to become
the third largest market for auto production behind the United States
While business prospects are bright for automakers, labor leaders say
they're concerned that China's state-controlled trade unions will
continue to resist the introduction of internationally recognized
``They've even gone so far as to actively support denial of these
rights,'' IMF President Jurgen Peters told the gathering, though he
said ``there are now some initial signs of a cautious thaw.''
In March, organized labor asked the Bush administration to impose
economic sanctions on China, contending the country had violated
workers' rights to gain trade advantages against the United States.
The request represented the latest effort by American unions to
highlight what they see as unfair trade practices that have led to a
record $124 billion U.S. trade deficit with China last year and the
loss of thousands of U.S. factory jobs.
The petition, filed by the AFL-CIO, alleged that China was brutally
repressing worker rights, constituting an unfair labor practice as
defined in Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974.
The Bush administration decided against pursuing the complaint and said
it would continue to work with China through diplomatic channels to
improve trade relations.
Gettelfinger criticized Bush for rejecting the petition, saying the
president ``has little interest in raising the living standards of
The UAW boss noted, however, that the AFL-CIO had accepted an
invitation from the Chinese government to visit the country and inspect
Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley
who specializes in labor issues, said he doesn't expect any quick
changes to China's labor environment, but foreign automakers and
organizations such as the AFL-CIO and UAW should apply pressure.
``China needs access to other markets to sustain its export
trajectory,'' Shaiken said. ``These unions and their respective
governments have considerable leverage to open up China. It's not going
to be easy, but it's possible. The alternative is that China becomes,
in effect, a black hole when it comes to wages and benefits globally.
That doesn't do anyone any good.''
GM spokesman Pat Morrissey said he wasn't able to comment on government
affairs, but that GM's operations in China provide the same type of
safety training and worker protections as in other parts of the world.
GM also has said its joint-venture workers in China make significantly
more than the average state worker.
``The manufacturing system we have in place in China is as close to
identical as we can make it to what we're doing elsewhere around the
world,'' Morrissey said.