2,000-man Brawl at Chinese Apple Factory

In Taiyuan, China there was a massive brawl that broke out at a dormitory at a Chinese factory. 2000 employees were involved in the brawl, and 5000 police were sent to stop the violence.  I think such outbreaks of violence are in fact very common in China, and that we are just hearing about this outbreak because it happened at a factory making Apple iPhones, a popular commodity for us in America.

Such outbreaks can occur for numerous reasons… demanding more pay, not being paid at all, the long hours, and the living conditions can lend themselves to such outbursts.  This one seems strange, because it was amongst the employees.  The article I read from Beijing (AP), “Apple supplier halts China factory after violence,” doesn’t mention the reason for the violence, and it seems very odd that they would all be fighting amongst themselves.  I suspect this was a protest against the factory employers in some way, but I could be wrong.

Let me paint some of the scenario for you:

Many Chinese factory workers live at their factories.  They work long days, and sometimes everyday.  They rarely leave the factory site, they eat all their meals at the factory cafe, and then they sleep in a dormitory that has bunk beds with each dorm room housing 6-10 workers.  It’s a rough gig.  We have similar setups in America, such as the oil working towns in North Dakota, or the island canneries in Alaska.

An example of a Chinese factory dorm.

In China, such working scenarios are common in all cities and urban environments.  I saw it first hand leaving in Hangzhou, China, and it is very common for construction workers to live in the buildings as they are being constructed, or to have temporary dorms built on site.  Usually these workers are willing to do the work and put up with the conditions for the same reason that the oil workers and cannery workers do in America, the pay is great and the living expenses throughout the process is nil since they’re covered by the employers for the most part.  However, in China, the pay isn’t good, it’s just good for the people who have no other choice.  They are often migrant workers – China has their own cheap labor sector that due to their registered residency in poor provinces, or rural areas, were they can legally work, choose to migrate to more affluent cities and provinces to find work.  They essentially are illegal migrant workers, in their own country, working were they do not have a permit to work, but employers hire them for tough jobs at substandard rates, at least that is how I understand the situation for many Chinese factory workers from my time living in China.

Some people travel far from home for work, and then get injured on the job, lose their job, and don’t have insurance or the proper funds to fix the injury or even get home.  I have seen it and talked to people who have gone through such struggles.  If you put thousands of young, strong men in one place and treat them poorly, expect uprisings periodically.  As long as the cops can outnumber them like they did in Taiyuan just recently, the system can stay as it is, and the workers for the most part get paid better than would back home, bust their tails for a few years, and go back pretty wealthy.  The young ladies might choose prostitution since it pays way better  than factory work, and there is a ton of customers from all the migrant guys, but no one back home really asks or cares as long as the money comes back home.

I know a guy from Maylasia who was living in China who worked for a company that was having their product made in China at various factories.  At one of his factory visits, there was a protest, and he and his co-workers, and factory leaders, could not leave the site.  They were trapped in the factory overnight and couldn’t leave until many police arrived and made a path within the mob using riot shields to escort them all out.  His experience and other articles and stories I have heard from eyewitnesses makes me question that this outburst in Taiyuan was just employees fighting each other!  I could be wrong, but I think it was a protest against the factory, and I do think this happens all the time, and we only hear what the Xinhua, China’s central news agency, allows to hear.  All the info in the article from AP came from Xinhua.  So yea… I’d double all the numbers, and add a lot of fatalities, and throw in some major problems.  I investigated some Xinhua articles firsthand in China and I found that the numbers can’t be trusted, unless things have recently changed.

An example image of a Chinese factory being surrounded by protestors. This protest is in Zhejiang province, where I lived for three years.

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