The FT reports that Foxconn, which employs 1.2 million Chinese workers who make the bulk of Apple’s products, along with those of Nokia, Dell, and other tech companies, has decided to allow its workers to hold elections to select their union leaders.
The company’s proposal, writes the FT, is viewed as a “response to frequent worker protests, riots and strikes and soaring labor costs.” In other words, just as employers in Western Europe and the U.S. once came to prefer dealing with unions to dealing with spontaneous shutdowns arising from worker discontent, so Foxconn has decided the better part of valor is to deal with representatives of the workers whom the workers actually view as their legitimate representatives.
What does this episode say about the comparative state of worker rights in the world’s two largest economies? What was the last large, or even mid-sized, American company to permit its workers to select union representatives without waging its own campaign against those workers having union representation at all?
Foxconn's decision may be a gain for democracy. But if so, there's a further set of questions for Americans to ask: Who’s the democracy here? Who’s the autocracy?