“How to Solve Labor Shortages”

The following is a translation of selections from this blog post by Wan Xiaodao. These suggestions may not be particularly feasible economically speaking, but they’re worth reading because they speak to the dissatisfaction that exists in the rural labor community.


Under the influence of the financial crisis that swept the globe last year, there were labor shortages; nowadays as the economy warms back up, labor shortages have reappeared. According to reports, in the Chang Triangle, the Pearl Triangle, and even in Wuhan, after the holiday there has been a dearth of laborer recruitment. This problem directly affects the development of our economy, and seeing as businessmen and scholars only know how to drink tea and chase girls, don’t know how to investigate [things] among the people and thus can’t resolve this problem, this worker [i.e., I] will undertake the difficult job of showing everyone how to get on the right track.

Resolving the problem begins with these five things:

  1. Raise the salaries of rural laborers. Business is about making money, for both bosses and laborers. Many workers in factories make less in a year than they would if they were farming, so of course they don’t come. Some people will say that rural workers’ salaries are quite high and that even college students can’t compete […] the “high salaries” of workers come from their blood and sweat working long hours and extra shifts.

    At many factories in the South, the salaries are just the local area’s minimum wage, several hundred RMB a month, just enough to live on. Their real net income comes from overtime. The “eight hours of work a day” system is just a piece of paper, they work from eight in the morning ’till five at night and then add more shifts […] until two in the morning or even all night long. The bosses only care about making money, and see the workers as machines, not people […] Aside from rural laborers, only prisoners understand this kind of life.

    If you want to resolve the issue, raise worker salaries […] and guarantee at least 3000 RMB/month. I think if you do that, rural laborers will volunteer to become your “machines”. If raising salaries causes losses, think about how to use new technology to lower net costs of your product, don’t always go taking it out of workers’ salaries. If you can’t cut costs and raising salaries will cause losses, then just shut down the enterprise for good.

  2. Reasonably safeguard the rights and interests of workers. […] I have said before, many government departments weren’t created for us workers, they were created to give rich people a back door. I have spoken with many laborers’ rights defenders, and they’ve said many bosses are actually local representatives, or on this or that [government or Party] committee, etc.

    I have heard from brothers in Shanghai that those with a Shanghai hukou are treated differently from other workers for doing the same jobs, and are guaranteed 600 RMB/month more than the non-local workers [… Also,] in the South, some factories only hire women, with the reasoning that women are easier to manage. I ran into this problem a few years ago in Shenzhen. You should know, among young laborers there are some men who don’t make money; why do they keep working? They have come to the factory to find girlfriends.

  3. Humanize business, show some warmth to the families of laborers.One hundred percent of businesses will say this point is clear and logical, but I think eighty percent don’t do it. Those bosses think of themselves as the workers’ savior, as though they were benevolently giving to charity by paying their workers’ salaries. They are wrong. We laborers (especially the new generation) think this way: we’re helping you make money and not asking you to be grateful; at the very least, you must pay me for however much I work. Without us to help you, you would be reduced to a poor wretch, too.

    [I remember at one job making shoes we had a boss who held our salaries over spring festival because] there was a chance we wouldn’t come back after the holiday, and said that when we got back from Spring Festival there would be a 200 RMB subsidy. We didn’t want that, we just wanted the money we were owed. I had never before seen a boss who refused to pay wages before Spring Festival. [A few days before the holiday], several hundred of us “surrounded him, and wouldn’t let his car leave the factory. The boss gave everyone a bag of candy, which we threw on the ground until the whole entrance was covered in candy. We were very angry. It was already the 27th [of the lunar month], the new year was very soon. This kept up straight until night, when the boss finally gave us our wages.

    […] If you give laborers a sense of belonging in their business, they will naturally love it like they love their homes. But up until now I haven’t found any businesses capable of this.

  4. Deepen reforms of the hukou residence registration system, let rural laborers urbanize. For this, we must rely on our great Party. If you let rural people become city people, the labor force in the city increases greatly, and the problem of not finding workers would be easily solved. In industrial parks build laborer areas, the houses need not be too good but they must be strong and the prices can’t be too high, no higher than 10,000 RMB […] Haha, it seems I’ve let my imagination run wild. Of course, if things were this way, it would lead to many problems, rural people would vie to be the first to get to the city, and what would we do with no one left to farm the earth?
  5. Shift factories towards the interior. If there’s no way to urbanize rural laborers, then move factories towards the interior. If you put the factories on workers doorsteps, you don’t have to worry you won’t have enough. This would alleviate the pressure of Spring Festival travel, and promote the development of the economy in the interior [as opposed to just along the coast…] actually, many businesses have shifted towards the interior, but the situation is nothing to be optimistic about. Because the internal regions are so poor the local governments look at these enterprises like a hungry dog looks at a piece of fatty meat. The town I’m in is like this, [they] have already driven off several enterprises.

[This story has been republished on Forbes’s website!]

0 thoughts on ““How to Solve Labor Shortages””

  1. Here are the answers on Twitter :

    Freedom of speech ? what a joke !!!

    yeganheshang RT @lihlii: 看完总结,我更相信他是个特务线人。他说传闻吴玉仁烧了警车,这肯定是他的特务同事干的。一贯如此。:)

    yeganheshang RT @lihlii: 杀手锏出来了。各位还说只是五毛狗,我看太傻。特务也。:)

    yeganheshang RT @lihlii: 我们等着看这只狗奴才过逍遥日子吧。我断定这不仅仅是五毛狗,而是特务。不信的人拉倒。:)

    jiyanjiang 喻高是自私的人,大多数正阳艺术家也自私。

    @majunspace: 挺搞笑的,这已经脱离五毛的低级趣味,发育成了六毛。

    @duatudnlee: 喻高文字中的恐惧,猥琐,自私,出卖,让人惨不忍睹。

    lihlii 怀疑喻高为特务线人或者五毛狗而不是奴才的理由还有,他说反感艾介入事件,但从未说他私下或者公开和艾交涉过,反常 。

    @lihlii: 我说喻高是特务线人,有人说这是阴谋论,这人不动脑子,你去读读喻高的帖子满篇的阴谋论把老艾的参与说成一个大阴谋

    @fanfou110 请强势围观 http://is.gd/98YPP !!!草泥马的喻高——往艾老师身上泼粪!


  2. I would say that this ‘labor shortage’ is a good thing. I wouldn’t be surprised that within in a year or 2 that factories would make adjustments so that they can accomodate their workers.


  3. Yes, I agree that the labor shortage is a good thing. Actually, I’d say it’s a great thing. Maybe one of the best things to happen in China in a long time. If reports are true, some factories are having to raise their wages by 30 percent. Chinese workers deserve this and more.

    Inefficient enterprises that have survived thus far through breaking labor laws may not survive this crunch, but the rest will become more sophisticated. To Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao’s credit, they seem to have realized for a while that China has to move up the value-added ladder and shed some of the worst sweatshop jobs in favor of higher-skilled, more high-tech opportunities. Their commitment to that idea seemed in doubt at the beginning of the financial crisis, but hopefully this labor shortage will give them the push they need to keep cleaning up labor relations.

    In my dream world, the All China Federation of Trade Unions would use this opportunity to start bargaining for real on behalf of its members. But my guess is that they’ll do some good things legislatively (support minimum wage increases in different provinces or push for stronger implementation of the Labor Contract Law, for example) but keep mumbling junk about “harmony” and “win-win” situations—and maybe even take helping companies find workers as their main task. We’ll see…


  4. OTR,

    I wouldn’t be that optimistic, there’s a vast amount an untapped labor pool out there like young men, and older people as most of the workers that factories are hiring are young women. I don’t think factories will raise 30% of the pay per say. Many factories are opening closer to the rural areas so some people are willing to work for less if that means that they are closer to their family. I think many factories will be forced to be innovative by accommodating families also.


  5. 1. Raising the wages of the rural workers may seem like a fast way to solve the problem, but lower labor costs is the only way for most technologically behind countries, such as China, to remain competitive. Sure the government can manually raise the wages to 3000 RMB per month, but that would mean almost nobody will be able to afford their services. In the end, they won’t even have a job.

    2. 19th century Britain was a horrible place to live in. But at the same time, it was the industrial revolution, assisted by (initially) cheap labor costs that had spurred on the many technological innovations observed during the period. That’s not to mention a far stronger economy and eventual improvements in workers’ living standards and wages. Then again, those benefits came at the cost of having to go through professionalization of the once largely unskilled labor force as well as the gradual reduction in the number of rural workers, so I don’t know how China can fix this problem in the short term.

    3. The bosses don’t need to view their workers as human beings because, as I mentioned before, the professionalization and accompanied reduction in size of the labor pool, as seen in just about every developed country, simply has not happened. Once again, think back to Britain during the industrial revolution. Time will eventually fix this problem, but lots of people will suffer in the process. There’s no way around it.

    4. In most Western countries, mass urbanization occured in tandem with the mechanization and automation of the agricultural industry. If the registration system weren’t in place to keep farmers on their land, it would be practically impossible to keep all of the farmland manned and productive without tens of years of capital accumilation on the part of the farmers before mechanization can truly occur on a national scale. Meanwhile, it would be practically impossible to keep the rest of the Chinese population fed. Hukou’s certainly not a pleasant system to be subjected to, but it works.

    5. While diversification of the largely agricultural interior lands of China would definitely helpful for the economy, it would be practically impossible to sidestep the problems of pollution and worker abuse (due to labor surpluses) that will follow. Now that he mentions it, maybe corporatization of agriculture could help bypass the modernization process, and assist with urbanization of the rural population.


  6. @ Pug_ster,

    Yeah, the 30 percent cited in those reports is probably on the high end or a complete aberration. I was being overly optimistic—I have to be sometimes in order to stay sane!—but I also think something is going on. The interesting thing to me is that there is such a vast “reserve army of labor” (as Marx would put it), yet people choose to stay near home and get paid what I imagine is slightly less than on the coast, even when cost of living is factored in.

    It speaks to the powerful effect that cutting rural taxes has had, to the money that’s being poured into inland infrastructure projects, and to the growth of inland boomtowns—-but also, I think, to how tired migrant workers are with being migrant workers. It just isn’t a sustainable way of life. A professor once told me that in his research he’s found that migrants are pushing their children to stay home or go to vocational schools or whatever—but not to become migrants like themselves.

    @ Chaji,

    “Time” did not fix the problems of the working class in Britain. Trade unions did. Humans have a way of warping “objective” processes to their own ends. Just when some brilliant technocrat has all the development stages sorted out (“first we’ll screw the peasants and workers, then we’ll train people with new skills and introduce ‘corporate’ agriculture, then everyone will join middle class, then they will buy their own country’s goods…”), people protest and riot or just return home and things take a different turn. Thank goodness.


  7. @ Old Tales Retold,

    “Time” allowed unions to form, which gave the workers a much greater degree of control over the labor supply. Given that unions could form in a much more balatantly anti-labor atmosphere of 19th century Britain and turn-of-the-century North America, it would be absurd to say that the same cannot occur in China and elsewhere.

    In case you haven’t noticed, what I described was basically laissez-faire economics.


  8. @ Chaji,

    Yes, I’m not a big fan of laissez-faire economics. You are. We disagree there. And, yes, I too think that real trade unions will form in China—either through a process of reform within the ACFTU or in competition with the ACFTU. I’m not sure why you think I doubt this.

    My point is that there’s not a natural flow of history (in this regard, I’m not much of a Marxist). There’s a push and pull. And sometimes the pull sends things in a new, unexpected direction. Why does India have a relatively weak trade union movement but Brazil and South Africa have strong ones? Why does the U.S. have weak unions but Sweden strong ones? Certainly, the old, easy answers (“level of development,” “democracy or authoritarian,” etc) don’t apply.

    So, Chinese workers shouldn’t just wait for what you and I both imagine to be their future to be realized. They must take action, push and pull. Which, of course, they are doing.


  9. In general, it seems like China blogs like this tend to divide people between supporters of “liberal” and “illiberal” governance. Other aspects of political and economic thought are not given their due—from questions of “infant industries” and protectionism to the pros and cons of collective agriculture and small holder agriculture. If these are dealt with, it is usually still through the lens of the Party’s power and whether that power is legitimate.

    In contrast, at Leftist blogs like China Study Group (http://www.chinastudygroup.net/) it is never taken as a given that support for political freedoms equals support for a casino-style free market or that support for the Communist Party has anything to do with “socialism” (in fact, commentators here like Chaji and Wahaha have shown again and again that they prefer unequal, neoliberal development strategies, maybe with a dash of state intervention, over bottom-up strategies, all the while expressing support for the jailing of dissidents and crackdowns on workers and non-Han groups).

    Maybe this bias is a function of the way in which the Party itself has made fighting heterodox viewpoints and “mass incidents” so important to its mission. But it obscures other, equally valid discussions.


  10. @ Old Tales Retold

    I have one thing in mind when I write these comments: national interest. I don’t hide it behind a mask of ideological self-righteousness, because I see no need for it. I assume it’s the same for Wahaha, though I do not know him personally.

    There are two aspects that must be addressed in any discussions regarding national interest: internal stability, and external security. As the former is the theme of this website, I’ve mostly limited my discussions to that particular subject.

    Now, to achieve internal stability, there are two things that must be accomplished: satisfaction of the people under Chinese jurisdiction, or their general happiness, and the defense of the state against any potential dangers that arise from within. Improving the economy satisfies the former (although moving toward this goal may require moving away from general happiness temporarily), while the elimination of the so-called “dissidents” (many of whom are funded by foreign organizations anyway) satisfies the latter. If you got better ideas, I’ve love to hear them, but if not, then at least now you know how I (and potentially Wahaha, I don’t know) think.

    So in case you’re wondering, I am, in fact, a big fan of 19th century Prussia.


  11. [At the risk of my post showing up thrice and looking stupid, as I’ve already posted versions of this twice]

    Whose national interest? The interest of farmers? Workers? Students? Small businesspeople? Old state-owned enterprises? Foreign-invested enterprises? Government bureaucrats? The Party?

    I imagine your answer would be something like “all of the above.” But depending on the way a nation develops, it hurts some groups and helps others. Which would you hurt and which would you help? And what is the nature of the nation that you want in the end? Or is it just that something called “China” that is strong? The Bismarck stuff seems more like a means than an end.


  12. What would you define as the “interest” of the people? The workers? Students? People in general? Is it the interest of the mind, defined by its satisfaction? Is it the interest of the body, defined by its pleasures? Is it its (abstract) status, as perceived by other people? Is it defined by the knowledge the brain possesses? The (even more abstract) “freedom” as defined by whoever wants to define it?

    I imagine your answer would be something like “all of the above”. But depending on the way a person’s life works, you’re bound to lose in some areas while gaining in others. Which ones do you think a person should maximize? And what is the nature of the person that you want in the end? Or is it just that someone you can look at and refer to as being “happy”?

    The definition of anything, when you want to be precise, is basically impossible to nail down, for a country as for a person. But I’ll give you my answer:

    As a person is more than the sum of his cells, so is a country more than the sum of its people. When you say that you want to maximize a person’s “interest”, you could be referring to any combination of the specific areas I mentioned above. Similarly, when I mention the “national interest”, I could be referring to any combinations of the classes you listed in your post. Just as you will recognize something that’s good for you when you see it, so will I recognize something that’s good for my country when I see it, regardless of the fact that neither of us can precisely pin down the identity of the principle of our discussions.

    The implementation of nationalism is different than that of any other ideology: it’s far more flexible, far more redefinable, and far more intuitive than any other dogmatic semi-religious ideological doctrines out there, like “liberalism” and “communism”. It’s a constantly evolving ideology, almost like a language. The “collective unconscious”, a word many sociologists seem extremely fascinated with, is, in a way, the “soul” of the country.

    But whether or not you subscribe to the idea of the mind-body duality at the national level is up to you; I’ve described my point.


  13. Chaji,

    Thanks, you’ve described your viewpoint well.

    Nationalism will always feel a bit arbitrary to me. Of course, weighing the relative interests of different groups is tricky, as is defining “interest,” as you point out (Amartya Sen and John Rawls coupled with Karl Marx give the best answers to this question, in my opinions, but even theirs are still incomplete). However, whereas I can give a concrete reason for why I think workers deserve more materially than stockbrokers (one labors manually and contributes to the real economy, the other speculates on the margins), a nationalist will never be able to say why humanity as a whole should value the interests of country X over country Y.

    In a sense, there’s no real role for a nationalist in a debate larger than his or her country. What can they possibly contribute other than advocacy for their own nation?

    I suppose you might argue that everyone is at heart a partisan of some country or group, whether they know it or not. That’s probably true. But should we make that prejudice the driver for all our efforts in our brief time on earth? Seems like a pity.


  14. @ Old Tales Retold,

    Nationalism or not, it’s unavoidable that humans, as social beings, identify themselves with a particular group whether out of material interest or emotional benefits. At the very least, we all have our self interests.

    As for arbitrariness, nationalism is really not worse than any other ideology. All ideologies assume a desired result, be it personal or collective, and tries to apply itself on all it deems applicable. In the case of nationalism, it’s on a national scale, while in the case of other universalist ideologies, it’s global.

    The way I see it, most older civilizations (Sinic and Western in this case) have been relatively isolated from each other in the past. Personally, I think that’s the best scenario for the world: it gives each of them the time and energy to focus on internal matters, perfecting their own systems of governance, and reaching a point of equilibrium between the different interests within their societies.

    That’s why I promote nationalism – when used defensively (or aggressively on a local scale), it helps with the cohesion between individuals of the civilization in question, and assists in defining a clear direction of societal development for said civilization. It also prevents large-scale conflicts, because logical nationalism, which inevitably develops into realpolitik, is focused on the concept of interest, which is inevitably hurt when major wars erupt. Furthermore, physically connected territories under a single political entity, results of small, locally scaled wars, are far easier to integrate and to make permanent than say overseas (puppet) governments established purely because of ideological principles.

    In short, defensive nationalism keeps things local and logical, while universalist ideals, such as liberalism and communism, make things global and downright religious.

    I think the choice here is obvious.


  15. @ Chaji,

    The idea of defensive nationalism is interesting. I imagine, though, that it is an idea better suited to a time when civilizations really could isolate themselves from each other and before international ideologies—especially liberalism and socialism—could exert a pull on people’s values.

    Now, nationalism has to explicitly set itself both against (not just apart) other cultures and, within a country, against “undesirable” classes and heterodox opinions. The temptation of fascism, not just the Prussian nation-building you admire, is very strong. We see this in the American right-wing, the Swiss anti-Islamic reactionaries, Turkish genocide deniers, and Chinese fen qing.

    Anyway, that’s my take. Maybe I’m wrong! I don’t mean to call you a fascist—that’s not my point. I mean that nationalism today holds a strong potential to drift in that direction.


  16. @ Old Tales Retold,

    As I said, locally aggresive uses of nationalism should be permitted, as that’s one of the natural methods of growth for a culture. After all, none of the modern states exist today were it not for the wars of expansion they all inevitably experienced! I hypothesize that as cultures expand and grow due to their inclusions of other cultures whose territories they annex, they will be far better equipped to deal with ethnic conflicts and radically different viewpoints than the nation-states (or ideology-states) of today. And when the different sides of the world finally come into contact with each other through bordering territories, a small amount of local warfare, coupled with long periods of peaceful interactions, would help redefine the identities of the opposing civilizations, and help with their inter-integration of each other. Even if both sides were fascistic, would fascism cause any harm if the focus were the entire human species? I thought that’s exactly what the liberals wanted!

    As for fascism itself, we must recognize that all successful, long-lasting cultures have cohesive elements that may be labeled as fascist, such as nationalism, imperial cult (Chinese, Roman, Japanese, etc), and so on. There are even signs that Hitler drew inspiration from Christianity in his conceptualization of Nazism! Refraining from criticizing a certain ideology (especially one as poorly defined as fascism) is probably the best case, such that each case may be independently judged.


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