The Labor Politics of Global Production: Foxconn, the State, and China's New Working Class

Jenny Chan

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The Taiwanese transnational corporation Foxconn Technology Group holds more than 50 percent of market share in global electronics manufacturing. Its 1.4 million employees in China far exceed its combined workforce in 28 other countries that comprise its global empire. This sociological research assesses the conditions of a new generation of Chinese workers on the basis of the intertwined policies and practices of Foxconn, international brands (notably Apple), and the local government, as well as the diverse forms of collective actions workers deploy to defend their rights and interests.

The Chinese industrial working class, now composed primarily of young rural migrants and teenage student interns, is a result of actions by local officials to mobilize students as “interns” through vocational schools. This use of student labor helps fulfill corporate needs for short-term labor at times of peak demand, circumventing the law, and dragging down social and economic standards. My fieldwork documents for contemporary China the ways in which the integration of the electronics manufacturing industry in global supply chains has intensified labor conflicts and class antagonism.

Within the tight delivery deadlines, some Foxconn workers leveraged their power to disrupt production to demand higher pay and better conditions. While all of these labor struggles were short-lived and limited in scope to a single factory, protestors exposed the injustice of “iSlavery,” garnering wide media attention and civil society support. Contradictions of state-labor-capital relations, however, remain sharp. In the contentious authoritarian system, notwithstanding the resilience of the Chinese state in the face of sustained popular unrest over the last two decades, my ethnographic study highlights the unstable nature of precarious labor in its hundreds of millions.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
Award date1 Jul 2014
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014


  • China
  • Labor Politics
  • The Chinese State
  • The Chinese Working Class
  • Rural Migrant Workers
  • Foxconn Technology Group

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