Chain of Thought

Truck Drivers Strike for Better Terms at Shanghai Port

It may not have dominated the headlines (rumor has it there's some royal wedding coming up that apparently is much more important to the international media), but hundreds of Chinese truck drivers went on strike at the port of Shanghai to protest high inflation in that country as well as to oppose fees the port authorities were levying on containers. Although you wouldn't know it by the soft headline in the Wall Street Journal (“Shanghai Truckers' Strikes Fizzle Out”), the truck drivers were successful in gaining some relief from the government, and they agreed to return to work.

Back in the Cold War days when we used to refer to the country as “Red China,” the news that any kind of organized labor dispute was taking place in opposition to the Communist government-controlled infrastructure would have been worthy of major coverage by all the TV networks and major newspapers. But, as I noted earlier, apparently in these days of media shrinkage and travel cutbacks, the few remaining reporters covering international beats must be in London this week. Cargo terminals, after all, aren't nearly as glamorous as Buckingham Palace.

According to news syndicate AFP, the Chinese government basically gave in to the demands (at least to the extent that the Chinese “give in” to anything) partly as a way of minimizing the possibility of an uprising similar to the unrest occurring in the Middle East. The AFP article notes, “China's government is on edge over spiralling prices, particularly after inflation became a factor in the popular uprisings that have rocked the Arab world.”

There is no evidence that the strikes had much, or indeed any, impact on global trade at the port, but then again, as the WSJ article points out, there was a virtual news blackout by China's state-controlled media on the strike. The simple fact that China is now acknowledging the strike, and more to the point, that China has addressed at least some of the truck drivers' demands, ought to be a far bigger story than it is. At least, so far. The fact that Chinese truck drivers could organize largely via cellphone and other stealth measures could be an indication as to how seriously the Chinese government is concerned about copycat strikes. Whether granting concessions to the truck drivers nips any further labor disputes in the bud remains to be seen.

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