The "Rights Awakening" of Chinese Migrant Workers

Beyond the Generational Perspective

Author: Ivan Franceschini | Kaxton Siu | & Anita Chan


In the spring of 2010, the strike of the Honda workers in Nanhai instigated an on-going discourse on the "rights awakening" of the "new generation of migrant workers". Since then, much has been written about these young workers, generally described as more pro-active and ready to stand up against their employers than the older and more subservient generation. Drawing from statistical findings from two factory-gate surveys in the metal mechanics and garment sectors in Shenzhen, this paper tests two hypotheses: a) that workers of the younger generation are more cognizant of their legal rights than older workers; b) that the younger generation wants to work fewer hours and to enjoy life more. We argue that this popular image of the younger generation of migrant workers is one-dimensional and reductive, as it focuses only on generational differences as an explanatory factor for worker activism, while ignoring other issues such as types of industries and payment systems. In this paper, we purport that these elements play important roles in shaping the attitude of this younger generation toward their work and rights.

Regions: East Asia
Countries: China

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September 2016
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