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Chinese Communist Party Holds Nineteenth National Congress

Between 18 and 24 October, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) held its Nineteenth National Congress. In his three-hour-long Report, General Secretary Xi Jinping heralded the dawn of a new era for socialism with Chinese characteristics, an age in which the contradiction between ‘unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s evergrowing needs for a better life’ has replaced that between ‘the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people and backward social production’. While not directly referring to workers, the Report went to great lengths to highlight the many achievements of the CCP in improving people’s livelihoods (minsheng). Xi cited as evidence of these improvements the fact that government policies have lifted sixty million people out of poverty. He also recognised that employment is key to people’s livelihoods, citing the steady creation of thirteen million urban jobs per year. The Report recommended policies to facilitate and improve the quality of employment, including expanding skills training and encouraging entrepreneurship. Since urban citizens have seen their incomes increase at a faster rate than China’s economic growth, with the ‘middle-income’ group continuing to expand, the CCP called upon the government to play a role in income redistribution to narrow income disparity. Furthermore, Xi pointed to the success of establishing a better social security system, with efforts to expand the coverage of healthcare, pensions, unemployment insurance, and affordable housing. Xi concluded this section of the Report by pointing out that because of these efforts, society is stable and national security is strengthened as a result. Despite the Report’s claim that China is led by the working class in alliance with the peasantry, references to workers were few and far between. In the entire text, ‘migrant workers’ (nongmingong) were mentioned only once, in a passage that encouraged migrants to maintain multiple avenues for finding employment. The Report also made no mention of the household registration system (hukou or huji), a fundamental issue for rural migrants. References to ‘workers’ (gongren) were only made to state that the country is led by the working class, and to call on the CCP to expand membership among many groups, including workers. There was one further, brief reference to ‘employees’ (zhigong) in relation to improving the old-age pension system for urban employees. The most explicit reference to labour relations came in a section on the tripartite collective negotiation mechanism. This tripartite system has been promoted since the 1990s, but has only taken on a sense of urgency in the last decade, as more and more workers have organised to demand higher pay and better conditions. The Report stated that a tripartite mechanism in which the government, official union (representing workers), and enterprises negotiate wages and labour conditions will contribute to a more just and orderly income distribution, as well as to more harmonious industrial relations. However, it must be noted that the push for tripartite collective negotiation has stalled in recent years and that the Report made only one reference to trade unions, where it demanded that mass organisations became more political, progressive, and mass-based, in order to more effectively serve as transmission belts between the Party and workers. In sum, it appears that even in the new era there will be very little that is new for China’s working class. KL

(Sources: Party Congress Report in Chinese; Party Congress Report in English)

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