Honda Workers Unite -- and Demand Their Rights

The workers at Honda have electrified the world with their determination and solidarity in their strike against the multinational company. On May 17 the strike began at Foshan City, Guangdong Province when more than 1,800 workers held a general assembly, formulated their demands and elected representatives. Eighty percent of the workers are student interns from technical schools. They are not protected by the labor law nor do they have any social insurance.

Honda management, like many other auto companies, has a "zero inventory" policy-meaning they have no stockpile so the strike has shut down not only the transmission and engine parts plant but all four Chinese factories. Within the week Honda announced they were willing to raise the monthly meal allowance. But workers felt the company was not negotiating in good faith and in face dismissed two elected representatives in an attempt to scare the entire work force.

By May 26 the company proposed a wage increase, but it was different for interns and regular workers. This too was rejected.

The following day the workers formulated a few key demands: an increase in the basic wage, a demand that workers be allowed to re-sign their labor contract within three days of settlement, a call for a compensation subsidy based on years of service, a yearly increase in the year-end bonuses and festival subsidies, reinstatement of dismissed workers and amnesty for all who joined the strikes. They also raised the demand for the right to reorganize the trade union and to elect all union staff.

Management attempted to force interns to sign a "no strike" promise that was to be submitted by the end of May. They also called the interns' teachers and local government officials in order to pressure them back to work. But this too failed.

Meanwhile the union officials and local government officials took the side of the company. On May 31 at least 10 cadre wearing All China Federation of Trade Union badges attacked strikers attempting to keep scabs from entering the factory. As a result, four workers were so badly injured they were hospitalized. The workers have added to their demands that the company must take responsibility for the attack, not only apologizing but paying for their medical treatment and recovery.

Yet using tactics of repression and attempting to divide the work force has not succeeded. Currently Honda has offered a 24% wage increase and negotiations continue.

Since the Chinese Constitution was altered Win 1982, workers have no right to strike. When they do, officials have often allowed them to "blow off steam" and even win their demands. But those strikes have been very short-even when very militant-and have never involved the level of organization that the Honda workers have developed. Below this post is a letter by a Honda worker that gives a concrete "feel" for the level of militancy that has developed.

The media, both in China and around the world, is commenting on the new, militant work force in China. The Honda strike has lasted more than two weeks and reveals just what the bureaucracy was afraid of-that the workers are discussing and formulating demands, including the right to their own union and the right to elect their officials. It is also clear that there is tremendous sympathy for the Honda workers. But they do need support so that they do not end up isolated and crushed. Please add your name, or your organization's name, to the online petition. http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/honda-workers-struggle/signatures-page2.html to Mr. Takanobu Ito, the president and CEO of Honda Motor Company.

"Are we going to follow in the footsteps of our parents?"

A post '80s generation China Honda worker speaks out:

Honda is a Fortune 500 company! It earned more than 4 billion yuan last year! It earned more than a billion the year before that! Let's compare Honda with other businesses. But none can really compare with it! This is a Fortune 500 company which earned more than 4 billion in 2009 but only pays minimum wages to workers. It gives you a thousand yuan a month, which is only enough for food, and holidays are not included! Would you dare to work for this company? You may say Honda has contributed to our pensions and other companies have not. Mind you, it is illegal for employers to fail to contribute to a pension fund. You must file complaints to the labor bureau. A Fortune 500 company simply cannot do such openly illegal things! This time it increased our wages. 355 yuan! The increase is made up of a basic wage raise of 200 yuan, a living allowance raise of 35 yuan and a meal allowance raise of 120 yuan. You may say that after this pay raise our wage level reached 1500 yuan. All surrounding businesses also offer wages at this level. But how can one compare Honda with other businesses when Honda earns more than 4 billion yuan in annual profit? And this profit may even increase in the future. We all know that the automotive industry is a highly profitable industry. This is created by us frontline workers! But what do those of us who create the profits get? If we are not satisfied we can of course resign, but Honda will continue to recruit people, and our brothers and sisters would continue to suffer here! Even if we quit we have to fight for our brothers' and sisters' benefit! This is another reason for us to continue to strike!

Some people even say that because we are just secondary technical school students and vocational school students, we do not deserve higher wages. First of all I would like to ask: are you looking down on us as technical secondary school students? I strongly despise you! Although we are technical secondary school students, we have created a profit of 4 billion yuan a year! Can you do that? No, you can't!

On May 17 when the strike began, the high-level Japanese management ordered us to resume production. We responded that we would do so and gave them a week to reply to our demands or else we would quit. Then they secretly fired our leaders! The general manager, in his office, mocked us as fools. Where was their good will? So we went on strike again on the 21st. The Japanese managers have resorted to taking pictures of us, to threaten us to resume production! At this critical moment our great trade union did nothing for us! Instead they just wanted us to go back to the production line! Is this what a union should be doing? You take from our monthly wages 5 yuan for union dues but look what you had done for us! On May 22 the Japanese manager sacked two of our leaders to threaten us to resume production. So is this your good will? On the 24th you announced that you would increase our allowances from 65 yuan to 120, an increase of just 55 yuan! So this is your good will? And you continue to make video recordings to threaten us. This is another reason why we continue to strike.

China! It has been promoting low-cost competition and cheap labor. Our GDP keeps growing! However, this growth relies on exploiting our cheap labor. We have created all this wealth but only get very low wages in return. Our wages are still at the level of the minimum wage. We are still struggling to get by with this. We created this wealth. Don't we deserve to get better pay? With such deplorable wages, just how are we going to raise the overall level of our national economy? This (kind of injustice) is just too common! Our parents have suffered from this cheap labor market and now they are getting old. And now, do we, the post 80 and 90 generation, want to follow in the footstep of our parents? I believe no parent wants this. It is because they all once walked down this road and know how hard it is. We do not want to go this way either. Times have changed! So this kind of cheap labor regime must end!

Honda is a Japanese company and Japan is a capitalist country. But China is supposed to be a socialist country! The Japanese companies investing in China must follow the rules of China. Implement socialism! Do not give us capitalism!

Winning the Strike

The Honda workers have negotiated a successful resolution to their strike, winning 35% increase in wages for the permanent work force and 70% for intrns. Note that the elected workers' delegates asked Professor Change Kai to help them with the negotiations rather than the union president, who has not been supportive. They go back to work knowing that there is still much to be done, including the reorganization of their union so that it truly reflects their aspirations.

http://www.worldlabour.org/eng/node/362
Honda China workers’struggle won more concession---We thank all those who have been supporting them
Sun, 06/06/2010, China Labor Net

This morning, the media, at home and abroad, reports on the negotiation between Honda management and the workers. The Cajing website quoted Professor Chang Kai from the School of Labor and Human Resources of the Chinese People's University, and who is appointed by the workers’ delegates as their legal advisor, by saying that “the negotiation is concluded successfully! The management agreed to raise the workers’ wages 35% from the current level, which is approximately an increase of 500 yuan. Both parties have signed an agreement.”

On June 3, the workers representatives contacted Professor Chang Kai, and on June 4, he formally agreed to act as their legal advisor, and in the afternoon rushed to Nanhai to join the negotiation. At 3pm, the democratically elected workers delegation started talks with the management, and had not ended until 10 pm.

Before the negotiation started, the management proposed a pay rise of 366 yuan for formal workers, while the latter demanded for 800. The agreement now reached is an average monthly pay rise of 500 yuan, with 137 of which is in the form of subsidies and bonuses. A regular front-line worker whose wages was 1544 yuan, it will be increased to 2044 yuan after the pay rise, a raise of 32.4%. The intern employees, whose number accounts for 80 percent of all employees, had already agreed earlier to a pay rise, in stages, of 634 yuan from the current level of 900, a raise of more than 70%.

The meeting spent most of its time to discuss the question of wages. The issue of seniority subsidies proposed by the workers delegation had not been discussed in full, and the workers delegation acknowledged that it can be picked up later after the reorganization of the workplace trade union. The workplace union chairperson also participated in the meeting. Some of the workers delegation said that the reorganization of the union is their main concern, and although it is a complicated matter, they will continue to press for this on the basis of existing legal framework.

Open Letter of Thanks from Worker Representatives

This thank you letter from the workers delegates at Honda. They settled on their wage demands and decided not to insist on the reorganization of the union as part of the agreement, but the letter reiterates their commitment to it--they are going back to work with a victory under their belts and more work ahead of them! We need to continue following this case--Will a few leaders face retaliation once the spotlight is turned off?

This Open letter was taken from the China Labour Net website [http://www.worldlabour.org/eng/node/364].

*****

Open Letter of Thanks from Worker Representatives of Honda Auto Parts Manufacturing Co., Ltd.
06/07/2010

For the protection of workers’ rights and the right to democratic election of worker representatives, the workers of Honda Auto Parts Manufacturing Co. Ltd has stopped work for nearly half a month. During the stoppage of work, we received support from both the domestic and international communities. The support has given tremendous boost in the morale of the workers’ struggle!

At 3pm on 4 June, the management and the worker representatives had formal negotiation. In the presence of Mr. Zeng Qinghong, member of the National People’s Congress (Deputy Director and General Manager of Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., Ltd.) and Mr. Chang Kai (Director of the School of Labor and Human Resources of Renmin University of China), both sides reached consensus in the negotiation of workers’ wages.

The labour disputes have brought great damages to both the management and the workers. It is our wish therefore to build an effective communication platform as the next phase of work. On the worker side, we hope to achieve democratic election of trade union representatives and the establishment of a collective negotiation mechanism to ensure protection of the interests of both the management and workers. Only with a real and effective communication platform between the two sides can further disputes be prevented and harmonious labour-management relation established.

On behalf of all the production line workers, the negotiation delegation would like to express our truest and most sincere gratitude to all the people who have shown their concern and given their support to us in the domestic and the international communities. Without your support and encouragement, our strength was limited and our demands would not have gained attention and resolution.

To many people who have conveyed their apprehension about us, we would like to assure you that we will act according to the law and regulations for what is entitled to us in a reasonable manner. We strongly believe that through adequate communication and mutual trust, we will be able to resolve disputes and establish good cooperative relation with the management in the future.

Elected Workers’ Representatives
Honda Auto Parts Manufacturing Co. Ltd
Nanhai District, Foshan City
7 June 2010

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