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The politics of labor protection in authoritarian systems : evidence from labor law and enforcement in post-reform China


This dissertation seeks to shed light on labor politics in authoritarian settings by examining the ways in which labor conflicts and unions affected the making and implementation of labor policy in post-reform China. Western observers would argue that the absence of trade union independence and pluralism in countries like China is the cause of weak labor protection. Contrary to conventional wisdom, I show that in the absence of democratic elections, trade union independence and pluralism, labor conflicts can be a catalyst for union empowerment and pro-labor policies. In China, rising labor conflicts since the 1990s threatened the survival of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule and induced the CCP to allow the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), the previously feeble official trade union organization, to take on a more active role in articulating workers' interests at both the national and local levels. The CCP's shift gave the ACFTU the opening to promote workers' rights, and the and the ACFTU was able to gain rapid access to the policy process at the national level. At the local level, my research shows that the more contentious the labor situation, the more empowered the unions are on workplace issues. And the more empowered the unions, the more diligent government labor bureaucracies are in enforcing labor laws and regulations. This dissertation is one of the first to systematically examine Chinese labor politics at the sub-national level. A systematic examination of labor enforcement across China is required to know whether national-level changes have been implemented by local governments, which variables shape enforcement, and whether a stronger union brings positive changes to working conditions. China's provinces offer interesting comparisons of union strength and labor law enforcement at the sub-national level. Using an inter- provincial dataset I compiled, I tested the relationship between labor conflicts, union institutional development and regulatory enforcement. I compiled the data from a variety of sources, including more than 70 statistical yearbooks as well as official statistical reports published by provincial level government and Chinese news reports. I supported my empirical findings with interview information I gathered during my 12 months of fieldwork in China

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