Workers Comp Zone


(Note: the following is a workerscompzone series done by Julius Young while currently traveling in Asia)

“Country roads, take me home
To the place, I belong
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads”

“Are you goin to San Francisco?
Be sure to wear a flower in your hair….”

Hearing those songs yesterday, I thought I shoulda had the top down in my convertible, breezin’ on a sunny day to tunes from my favorite oldies station.

But not. I was in here in Guangzhou at the 5 story Baiyun Leather Trade Center, showroom for the world’s fake luxury merchandise. Like the new Prada purse? They may not sell you just one, but if you’re looking for hundreds, you’ve found your spot. And those guys selling fake stuff that you see at every street fair and outside major tourist spots-they were here yesterday, stocking up.

A word about Guangzhou. Accurate figures are hard to come by, but it’s population is probably over 12 million (compare that to Los Angeles’ 10 million). It’s in Guandong province, home to aproximately 70 million (compare that to 37 million for California in 2006).

There’s some talk that Guangzhou needs to discourage in-migration of folks from China’s interior in order to save itself from environmental disaster. Some have suggested restructuring industry to discourage the low-skill
manufacturing and assembly jobs in the area that are a magnet for the rural poor of central China.

The old adage is that for Shanghai folks, you are what you
wear. For Guanzhou, you are what you eat. Cantonese cuisine is some of the most prized in China. It is great-particularly dim sum, which is Cantonese- though I have a problem with eating the snake,the wriggling baby eels, shark fin and the other more exotic stuff.

Between here and Hong Kong is a major trade-zone megaopolis, Shenzen, as well as scads of major new development. Last night I visited a planned community, Clifford Estates, that has a feel not unlike parts of Rancho Mirage. Lots of shopping centers with department stores, hotels or “big-box” stores as anchor tenants. Some house prices have doubled. Sound like parts of California before the recent bubble burst?

In old Guangzhou, just blocks from the White Swan Hotel where Nixon stayed when he opened relations with China, thousands of teens and twentysomethings in a shopping frenzy. These kids are much more interested in Milan and Hollywood clothing styles-and in partying-than in being a member of a political party.

I wanted to share some of my impressions here.But I digress from the labor focus of this blog….

Chinese labor policy has been undergoing big change over the last year, with the enactment of a labor law making it more difficult to fire workers. Some major U.S. corporations opposed this, as did Taiwanese and other offshore owners who set up manufacturing facilities in China, particularly in Guandong.

At year end there was some “push back”, as authorities in the Dongguan area (near Guangzhou) adopted some modified regulations weaking the new labor law. So it’s possible that this region of southeastern China will be the area where workplace trends and rules are ironed out.

There’s more detail I want to cover on these developments in Chinese labor policy, but I’ve been moving around so much that I’ll save that for some stateside posts. We live in a global economy-like it or not, it’s not going away. I find it interesting to know how the people who make the merchandise we buy are treated in their factories.

Stay tuned.

Julius Young

Category: Political developments