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Home >> Opinion
UPDATED: 09:18, August 27, 2004
Face up to the challenges from "new stratum" in urban society
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When reading the newly published report "Contemporary Flow in Chinese Society" over the weekend I got a strong feeling: farmer workers have emerged as a new social stratum in China with a population of 210 million. The stratum is nominated as "new workers stratum". This impelled me to reconsider some scattered things I observed in the past.

There exist qualitative differences from conception to connotation between social groups and social stratum. The differences are concentrated on the reflection that the collective awareness, consciousness to maintain rights, and participation mentality of social groups cannot be compared with that of social stratum. Choosing some deeds of farmer workers in recent one or two years for analysis, people can tell the quality-changing tendencies.

Collective awareness: according to the observances made during my grassroots interviews, the number of farmer workers coming from outside is more than that of the local registered permanent residents in a good deal of developed townships in the eastern part of China. The "co-existence" of natives and non-natives once caused a headache for local social security. Since trying out to set up the "associations of alien farmer workers" �C popularizing the way of self-management by farmer workers from outside, the blend of non-natives and natives has been quickened with obvious improvement in social security. The identification of local natives for non-natives increases. The capacity of various associations of farmer workers from other areas to restrain its members becomes outstanding. The associations have gradually become indispensable helpers in the social security of township grassroots powers.

Consciousness to maintain rights: it is obvious for the associations of farmer workers from outside to play a role in maintaining the legal rights for farmer workers from outside. Local governments often ask the associations to take part in coordination when troubles between labor and management occur. The collective negotiations for farmer workers' wages were first emerged in Zhejiang province as a new way to maintain legal rights. However, they were not popularized smoothly. The situation has been changed since the associations joined in the negotiations. As a whole, the relations between labor and capital behind the privately run economy are obviously better in Zhejiang than many other domestic places (judging from settling the delayed wages for farmer workers).

Certainly, the average wages of farmer workers in Zhejiang are still similar to that in many other areas. In these years, the average wages have been declined. From spring up to now, there has been lack of farmer workers in several provinces in the eastern parts of China. Many people have found it hard to understand. The main reason is that they should enhance their consciousness for the maintenance of farmer workers' legal rights.

Participation mentality: Generally speaking, the total number of farmer workers from outside has surpassed that of local workers. While creating wealth for their habitats the enthusiasm of farmer workers to take active part in local social and political life starts to be released. For example, they request to join in the activities including the local elections.

Makeup ideology: first is the establishment of the trade unions for farmer workers. Last September when the 14th plenary congress of All-China Federation of Trade Unions was convened, the clause that farmer workers can join the trade unions has been written into its report for the first time. It is the first time that farmer worker has been defined as "new member of the working class". This results in the momentum of the trade union boom in building industry. Take Beijing building industry for example. The first trade union for farmer workers was set up in January this year. By the middle of this month, more than 80 per cent of enterprises have set up trade unions for farmer workers. As to Zhejiang where privately run enterprises are dominant in its economy, trade unions were established in all non-State enterprises. In the entire country, the trade unions are more in the sense of symbol than in the sense of substance. It is a long way to go before realizing the dynamic balance of employee-employer relations.

From groups to stratum and from association to trade union, the down breaks for "new worker stratum" have come. With appropriate policies, the "new worker stratum" will become major participants for urbanization drive and important builders and beneficiaries in the modernization process. On the contrary, without appropriate policies, it will become an uncertain factor to exert influence on the economic development and social stability.

Thereof, urban societies are facing the challenges from the new stratum in all links involving labor legislation, social guarantee and labor market.

Living in a multilateral society the benefit balance among stratums is the premise for social harmony, and social harmony is the basic elements for economic development and social progress. Under such common interests, the readers should do their best to advocate and implement the national treatment for farmer workers.

By People's Daily Online

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