Resistance in Management Transfer: A case of Japanese synthetic fibre plant in China

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China has witnessed a surge of Japanese FDI since the 1990s. This investment is characterised by re-exportation production, parent company dominated management and reliance on low-skilled rural workers for cost control. But within the fluid pattern of employment relations operating in China there have also been attempts to transfer aspects of the Japanese employment and production system into the country. This paper considers a case study of transfer, and the various forms of control exerted by the parent company alongside forms of resistance to parent company dominance. Extending Graham’s (1995) typology of the bases of resistance, the paper focuses on several new forms, especially those derived from the uses of language and residential relations with the company. The paper presents fieldwork from a Japanese synthetic fibre plant within a manufacturing cluster in Eastern China.
The case study is critical of the existing literature on management transfer. Multinational Corporations (MNCs) are generally considered agents of globalisation, exercising control over technological and managerial expertise, whereas resistance comes from locality, which entails different structural, political and institutional settings. This paper argues that resistance to parent company dominance is more complicated than a simple global-local differentiation.
The Japanese parent company attempted to control labour mobility in an effort to achieve the quality requirement of the home country customers. Cultural control came through intensive Japanese language training. Techniques for consensus building and construction of collective identity were also used and can be interpreted as attempts at administrative and personnel control. In pursuing production and quality control targets the parent company created a vertical division of labour based on age and educational background, with young male technical school graduates placed in low-skilled repetitive work and mature university graduates are allocated to positions that require broader working knowledge. Quasi-migrant workers constituted the majority of the workforce and this form of labour was easier to control.
The paper also documents various forms of employee resistance. One area was against cultural control through opposition to Japanese as a working language - workers deliberately replaced Japanese terms with Chinese at work and boycotted Japanese notices and signs other than some institutionalised technical terms. Resistance against administrative and personnel control was formed both within and outside the workplace. Employees rarely organise collective actions given extensive consensus building, marginalised role of employee representatives as well as management’s alliance with local trade union. Individual and passive forms of resistance were more widely observed.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 6 Apr 2009
EventThe 27th International Labour Process Conference - Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Apr 20098 Apr 2009


ConferenceThe 27th International Labour Process Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

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