Business Week recently devoted an entire special double issue to India and China, and surprisingly (for Business Week) had a relatively sympathetic account of the problems faced by workers in the latter country. Quoting from sources at the China Labour Bulletin, the magazine came up with an estimate of tens of thousands of industrial actions taking place in China every year. And in the same issue of the magazine, it reported on the spectacular growth in Internet use in China as well.
So in China you have two revolutions taking place at once — a huge surge of worker unrest at the same time as there is a massive increase in the number of Internet users and websites. The China Labour Bulletin is, of course, taking advantage of this with its excellent website, but what about the various international institutions of the labour movement?
Amazingly, none of them has yet produced a Chinese language edition of its website.
The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) website continues to appear only in English, French and Spanish. Global Unions, the website it created together with other global union organizations, is still in English only. And the websites of the various global union federations (GUFs) don’t do any better.
One of them offers free online translation services which might allow for a Chinese worker to generate a laughable version of the organization’s web page.
Another does list Chinese as one of the available languages but — and this is about as bad as it gets — when you select the language you see a page which reads: “Content available in Chinese is shown below … There are no pages in your selected language … There are no documents in your selected language.”
Presumably, these organizations will point out that they have no affiliates in China (expect perhaps for some in Hong Kong or Taiwan). And it’s true that the languages used on some of the global union websites reflect the strength of their affiliated organizations, which is why we tend to see languages like Swedish and Italian, but don’t see Urdu or Indonesian. But unions that want to reach out and build a much broader and more powerful global labour movement should have the Chinese working class on their radar screens.
Global corporations are already way ahead of us. Wal-Mart’s Chinese language website is at http://www.wal-martchina.com/. Microsoft’s is at http://www.microsoft.com/china/. And McDonald’s Chinese site is at http://www.mcdonalds.com.cn/.
In fact, it seems that every anti-union multinational that is racing to exploit low-paid non-union workers in China has rushed to set up a website touting its products — and its corporate “vision”. Chinese consumers and workers can learn all about what great companies Wal-Mart, Microsoft and McDonald’s are. If they are online and they want to know the other side of the story — the side being told by the international trade union movement — they will simply have to learn another language.
Of course there are costs involved in setting up Chinese language websites — though these are considerably less than the costs of producing print publications in that language. Certainly those costs could be shared among the global union federations and the ICFTU, just as they worked together to create the English-only Global Unions website.
With tens of thousands of industrial actions taking place every year in China, and with millions of Chinese citizens coming online for the first, I don’t know what the international labour movement is waiting for.