Union power in China source, operation, and constraints

Feng Chen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

85 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


Why are the All-China Federation of Trade Unions and its regional branches, or union bureaucracies, able to play an active role in labor legislation, unionization, and labor dispute settlements, while their grassroots organizations, or workplace unions, remain haplessly impotent and incapable of representing workers? This article argues that union bureaucracies' power and its operation are decisively reliant upon their formal government status. While a government status constrains union bureaucracies' autonomy, it also paradoxically accounts for their influence in areas in which their active role is permitted and expected by the government. However, workplace unions' subordination to management leaves them no power whatsoever. Union bureaucracies' governmental status prevents them from operating through mobilizing grassroots labor support or exerting their influence by empowering their grassroots branches. Thus, their legislative and other efforts have had a limited impact on the balance of power between labor and capital in the workplace.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)662-689
Number of pages28
JournalModern China
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2009

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science

User-Defined Keywords

  • Associational power
  • Union bureaucracies
  • Workplace unions


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