Strikes: Claiming Power in Chinese Companies
chapterposted on 19.10.2021, 04:20 authored by Thomas McNamaraThomas McNamara, K Geenen
In April 2017, a strike occurred at a subsidiary of the Chinese Non-ferrous Metals Mining Group (CNMC), which we refer to as ChinMin, in Chambishi, Zambia. The strike started when the union branch chairmen of Mineworkers’ Union of Zambia (MUZ) and National Union of Mine and Allied Workers (NUMAW) gathered their members to inform them that, for the third year in a row, they would receive no increase in their basic monthly salary of a little under ZMK 1,100 (US$ 110). During these three years, Zambia’s inflation had totalled 24 per cent, the kwacha had devalued by almost 50 per cent against the US dollar and the cost of living had risen by a similar amount (JCTR 2019). The union chairmen moved between the departments of the mine processing plant, delivering the bad news to angry cries about the hardship of Zambian life and accusations of bribery and betrayal. A disgruntled former trade unionist ran ahead, spreading rumours that the union branch leaders had been corrupted by ‘the Chinese’ and informing workers that a strike was the only way they would receive a fair pay rise. By the time the union executives had reached the heart of plant, employees had downed tools and locked the gates. They had left sophisticated machinery running, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage. This strike was quickly resolved through the intervention of the Member of Parliament (MP) for Kalulushi Constituency, where Chambishi is located. She demanded that workers receive a significant pay rise and that no one be fired for striking. The MP was cheered on by the union chairmen, who claimed to have assisted her. However, these chairmen later worried that the strikes would damage the relationships between the union, the company and the workers.