Movement-oriented labour NGOs in South China: Exit with voice and displaced unionism

Feng Chen*, Xuehui Yang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Movement-oriented labour NGOs in China are groups committed to the advancement of workers’ collective interests in a way very similar to that of trade unions in other countries. As the gap between workers’ demands for collective bargaining and their lack of union representation widens, the role of movement-oriented labour NGOs has increased. These NGOs are led and driven by former workers who have a strong consciousness of workers’ rights and who fought in the workplace for their fellow workers’ interests as well as their own. The leadership shown by former workers significantly accounts for the behavioural patterns and strategic choices of movement-oriented labour NGOs. The study reported in this article uses two descriptive concepts to characterize the emergence and role of movement-oriented labour NGOs: exit with voice and displaced unionism. The former refers to the social process by which former workers become activists of movement-oriented labour NGOs, while the latter points to a grass-roots labour movement facilitated from outside the factory gates. This article argues that, while having performed a trade union-like role and promoted worker-led collective bargaining, movement-oriented labour NGOs embody a fundamental predicament of the Chinese labour movement, which is that organized labour activism in the Chinese workplace is largely prohibited.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-175
Number of pages21
JournalChina Information
Issue number2
Early online date20 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)

User-Defined Keywords

  • collective bargaining
  • labour disputes
  • labour movement
  • movement-oriented labour NGOs
  • NGOs


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