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Friedman, Eli

Insurgency Trap

Labor Politics in Postsocialist China


    86,95 € / $99.95 / £79.00*

    eBook (PDF)
    Publication Date:
    May 2014
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    Aims and Scope

    During the first decade of the twenty-first century, worker resistance in China increased rapidly despite the fact that certain segments of the state began moving in a pro-labor direction. In explaining this, Eli Friedman argues that the Chinese state has become hemmed in by an "insurgency trap" of its own devising and is thus unable to tame expansive worker unrest. Labor conflict in the process of capitalist industrialization is certainly not unique to China and indeed has appeared in a wide array of countries around the world. What is distinct in China, however, is the combination of postsocialist politics with rapid capitalist development.Other countries undergoing capitalist industrialization have incorporated relatively independent unions to tame labor conflict and channel insurgent workers into legal and rationalized modes of contention. In contrast, the Chinese state only allows for one union federation, the All China Federation of Trade Unions, over which it maintains tight control. Official unions have been unable to win recognition from workers, and wildcat strikes and other forms of disruption continue to be the most effective means for addressing workplace grievances. In support of this argument, Friedman offers evidence from Guangdong and Zhejiang provinces, where unions are experimenting with new initiatives, leadership models, and organizational forms.


    232 pages
    1 halftone, 4 tables, 9 charts, 2 maps

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    Eli Friedman is Assistant Professor of International and Comparative Labor at Cornell University.


    Joel Andreas, The Johns Hopkins University, author of Rise of the Red Engineers: The Cultural Revolution and the Origins of China’s New Class:

    "Insurgency Trap provides us an in-depth analysis of labor unrest among migrant workers in China. These workers now form the most numerous part of the Chinese working class, they dominate China's giant export-oriented manufacturing sector, and they have been increasingly willing to protest and strike to improve their miserable conditions. By putting the state-run unions at the center of his analysis, Eli Friedman helps illuminate some of the fundamental dynamics shaping labor relations in China."

    Eileen M. Otis:

    "[Insurgency Trap] represents a central and innovative contribution to labor studies, linking as it does history, ethnography, biography, and theory into a revised Polanyian framework that scholars from a wide range of fields will certainly find useful. It is thoroughly researched and deftly theorized, advancing our understanding of labor, institutions, social movements, politics, and power in China. This book is vital reading for anyone interested in labor, globalization, transitional societies, and inequality more broadly."

    Mingwei Liu:

    "By identifying the insurgency trap and emphasizing the critical role of organizational and economic factors in shaping union activities, Friedman makes a valuable contribution to the literature. As the dynamics of worker-state interactions and the politics of labor representation are key for the future of the Chinese labor movement, Friedman's book is a must-read for anyone with interest in China's labor."

    Anita Chan, University of Technology, Sydney:

    "Eli Friedman has had excellent access to the Chinese trade union, and this eminently readable book is full of new inside information, interesting anecdotes, and new conceptualizations. This is a must-read for anyone curious about the relationships among Chinese labor, the official trade union, and the Chinese state."

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