Wang says that the power of the trade union movement lies in the breadth of the alliance it represents. The ACFTU’s unique leadership style and high degree of unity and solidarity have both played their part in bringing about an increased unionization rate.
In 2008, few of the Global 500 companies operating in China had a strong union presence. To turn the situation around, the ACFTU and local trade unions joined hands to begin what they called a 100-day unionization effort.
The ACFTU’s hard work was rewarded. By the end of the year, trade unions had been established in the Chinese headquarters of 147 Global 500 firms (out of 353 nationwide) and 1,763 branch companies.
Even Marubeni Corporation, Wyeth and Morgan Stanley, which had all come under fire for their anti-union stance, now had trade unions.
ACFTU figures show that in 2012, of the 7,776 Taiwan-, Hong Kong- and Macau-invested enterprises operating nationwide, there were trade unions in 5,865. Unions were also recognized in 35,986 of the 47,601 Japanese enterprises in China.
Wang believes that to increase unionization, trade unions must respect workers, encourage them to join on a voluntary basis and rely on them to get organized.
While offering guidance and publicizing the benefits a union provides to workers, trade unions also launch organizing drives geared toward the diverse characteristics of enterprises and focus efforts on establishing federations of regional and industrial unions. By the end of 2012, some 121,400 regional and industrial trade union federations had been set up, involving 2.87 million enterprises and 169 million workers.
The ACFTU promotes unionization by transferring union organizers to strengthen grassroots unions. Over the past several years, it has hired full-time union organizers for enterprise unions, especially unions in township and village enterprises that have seen a sharp decline in the number of full-time cadres. By the end of 2012, the Federation had appointed 33,600 full-time union organizers. This year it has set aside 69 million yuan (about US$ 11.4 million) to pay wages to the union organizers it has hired.
Wang says that the union organizers go down to the grassroots and give wide publicity to the advantages of joining a trade union by opening night schools for workers. Under their leadership, many local unions have launched membership discount programmes, offering price savings in shops, hospitals and entertainment venues.
Wang recalls that in recent years, the ACFTU has shifted its focus to the country’s large army of migrant workers. To enhance protection for these workers, the Federation has come up with a number of innovative organizing strategies.
One of these is to recruit migrant workers before they leave their villages. Once they join the trade union, their membership credentials are portable. In other words, even if they move to a different job, their membership status is recognized by the new trade union. With this system in place, migrant workers do not lose touch with their unions despite always being on the move. By the end of 2012, 105 million migrant workers had joined trade unions.