The perils of peace in China’s commodity industries | The Economist

WHEN the number of strikes plummets, something significant is usually going on. Strikes in China’s mining, iron and steel industries have fallen from more than 40 in January to four a month or fewer between May and August, according to China Labour Bulletin, an NGO based in Hong Kong. The explanation seems to be that China is backtracking on plans for the restructuring of state-owned firms in these sectors.

In February the government announced that it would redeploy 1.8m people, or 15% of the workforce, in the bloated and debt-laden coal, iron and steel industries. Just after that, a huge strike over unpaid wages by coal miners in the north-east dramatised the risks of trying to force through massive lay-offs and plant closures. So local officials have dragged their feet. According to the national planning authority, in the first seven months of the year provincial governments achieved only 38% of their full year’s targets for coal production cuts.

Fear of unrest is not the only explanation. Commodity prices have rebounded slightly this year, so local authorities are playing a game of chicken, keeping mines and factories open and hoping the neighbours will close theirs, so they themselves will be the ones to gain from higher prices. China itself is not benefiting.

Source: The perils of peace in China’s commodity industries | The Economist

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