T23a workshop research summary - 中欧社会论坛 - China Europa Forum

T23a workshop research summary

Authors: Pan Yi and Lu Huilin

Though ethnographic studies and group discussion, we have got two key theses:

1.The Culture of Violence: The Labor Subcontract System and the Collective Action of Construction Workers in Post-Socialist China

By Pun Ngai and Lu Huilin


This article aims to study the culture of violence embedded in the rapidly changing construction industry and to explore how it induces serious collective action among the construction workers in post-socialist China. The political economy of the construction industry has shaped a specific labor use system - a labor subcontract system. The system is a highly exploitative one which was once forsaken in the socialist period but which has now been reborn in the reform period. As a new product of capital, this labor system illustrates two processes: the rapid commodification of labor through pre-industrial social relations organized by a quasi labor market in the rural villages; and the subsumption of labor in the production process of the construction sector in the urban areas. Based on our ethnographic studies conducted between 2008 and 2009 at four construction sites in Beijing and in a rural village in Hebei from which the construction workers came, we argue that the labor subcontract system generates a culture of violence characterized by quarrels, individual and collective fighting, attempts to damage buildings, bodily abuse and suicidal behaviors, which shapes a specific form of collective action taken by construction workers in China.

2.Unfinished Proletarianization: Self, Anger, and Class Action among the Second Generation of Peasant-Workers in Present-day China

By PUN Ngai and LU Huilin


As a result of open-door policies and thirty years of Reform, China has become the “world’s factory” and given rise to a new working class comprised of rural migrant workers. Now the second generation is experiencing dagong in industrialized towns and cities. What is the process of proletarianization of peasant-workers in China today? In what way does the path of proletarianization shape the new Chinese working class? We focus on the subjective experiences of the second generation of dagongmei/zai who have developed new forms of power and resistance unknown to the previous generation of workers. Did the pain and trauma experienced by the first generation of dagong subjects gradually evolve into the anger and grievance that has conditioned the labor strikes and class actions of the second generation? In short, what continuity and change can we observe in the life struggles of this new working class? Is the second generation of dagong subjects compelled to take action as a result of long-endured pain and anger? Self, anger, and collective action among the new working class propel the narrative described in this paper.

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