Dislocation in China's Countryside

Revolutionary Worker #1166, September 15, 2002, posted at http://rwor.org

In capitalist China, murderous labor conditions are the norm for a new generation of workers--in particular for the tens of millions of migrants who have flocked from the impoverished countryside to the country's coastal cities, trying to survive.

Farmers in the countryside are among those most threatened by the changes China agreed to make to become a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001. Duties on imported agricultural products are to be reduced and import quotas will be relaxed. Both changes greatly increase the competition farmers face from imports.

Even before China's entry into the WTO farm incomes were falling, and poverty was deepening and spreading. Many households in China's countryside depend on money sent home by relatives working in the cities.

Now China's small farm plots are being thrown into competition with large mechanized farms in the U.S. and other industrialized countries. As part of joining the WTO, China dropped a ban on imports of American wheat--which can now be bought in China for about $36 less a ton than wheat grown in China. That pressure on Chinese farmers will intensify after China raises the ceiling on wheat imports from the current two million tons a year, to 9.3 million tons a year by 2004.

This is leading to a historic shift in China's population. Migrant workers now number more than 200 million by some estimates, more than the 80 million employees working in China's shrinking state-owned industries. One researcher commented, "In the next 10 years, I predict 150 million farmers will move to cities looking for work." That's a mass of unemployed migrants larger than the total U.S. workforce.

Migrants from China's countryside are increasingly in job competition with millions of laid-off state workers. China's state-owned industries have already eliminated about 35 million jobs in the last five years, and government-controlled collectives have laid off 16 million more. Economists estimate that another 30 million industrial jobs are in jeopardy after China joins the WTO.

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