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Conference of Socialist Economists

CSE South, Capital & Class

Co-hosted by the Global Economy and Business research Unit, Business School, University of Hertfordshire


Seminar: Debating the Global Working Class

Friday 17th October

University of Hertfordshire,

de Havilland site, Room N003



Marcel van der Linden (University of Amsterdam)

‘The Global Working Class: Decline or Revival’.

Jenny Chan (University of Oxford)

‘Dying for an iPhone: Apple, Foxconn, and China’s New Working Class’

Everybody is welcome to attend the seminar at 14.00. If you would like to join us for lunch beforehand at 13.00 you are welcome, but please register with Jane Hardy ( Please see websites for details of travel and location


About the speakers:

Marcel Marius van der Linden

The Global Working Class: Decline or Revival


The number of wage-earners worldwide has grown significantly in the last three centuries, and its regional distribution has constantly shifted. The class awareness and collective action accompanying the development of this world working class has and is taking on many different forms in the course of time. The presentation will discuss the new challenges that have arisen. It is argued that the building of a new kind of trade unionism will be a difficult process, interspersed with failed experiments and moments of deep crisis. Pressure from below (through competitive networks, alternative action models, etc.) will be a highly important factor in deciding the outcome of this process.

Biographical note

Marcel is director of research at the International Institute for Social History and holds a professorship dedicated to the history social movements at the University of Amsterdam. Marcel is most recognized in his field for his approach of a “global labour history”, which he has developed since the 1990s. Global labour history is seen by many scholars of labour studies as a new paradigm that wants to overcome both traditional labour history and the “new labour history” developed in the 1960s by scholars like Eric Hobsbawm and E.P. Thompson.

Jenny Chan

Dying for an iPhone? Apple, Foxconn, and China’s New Working Class


Drawing on extensive fieldwork at China’s leading exporter, the Taiwanese-owned Foxconn Technology Group, the power dynamics of the buyer-driven supply chain are analysed in the context of the national terrains that accentuate global pressures. If suicide is understood as one extreme form of labour protest chosen by some to expose injustice, many more workers are choosing other courses. In globally connected production, Chinese workers are engaging in a crescendo of individual and collective struggles to define their rights and defend their dignity in the face of combined corporate and state power.

Biographical note

Jenny is Departmental Lecturer in Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Oxford. Her recent articles have appeared in Current Sociology, Modern China, Global Labour Journal, The Asia-Pacific Journal, The South Atlantic Quarterly, New Labor Forum, Labor Notes, New Internationalist, New Technology, and Work and Employment. She is writing her first book provisionally entitled Dying for an iPhone: Apple, Foxconn, and a New Generation of Chinese Workers (co-authored with PUN Ngai and Mark SELDEN).


About the CSE South Group:

The Conference of Socialist Economists (CSE) is an international, democratic membership organisation committed to developing a materialist critique of capitalism, unconstrained by conventional academic divisions between subjects. CSE has organised and supported conferences and seminars and publishes the Sage journal Capital & Class three times a year.

The CSE South Group is a network of researchers and activists founded by Capital & Class Editorial Board member Phoebe Moore and CSE participants Martin Upchurch and Chris Hesketh. Members hold workshops where people present work and hold discussions on topics that concern the CSE and our journal.


About the Global Economy and Research Unit, Hertfordshire Business School, University of Hertfordshire

The Global Economy and Business Research Unit (GEBRU) focuses on issues that face economies, businesses and communities in the context of globalisation. The group undertakes both empirical and policy work, as well as engaging in the theoretical and methodological debates that underpin them. Members of the group are actively engaged with a range of stakeholders which include businesses, trade unions and NGOs. The approach of the group is interdisciplinary drawing on economics, political economy, geography and international business.

The unit’s research themes include the restructuring emerging markets in economies such as Poland, Serbia, Ukraine, Zambia and Bangladesh. GEBRU also focuses on migration and labour market mobility, and in particular the dynamics of European East-West migration and the intervention of stakeholders such as states and trade unions. A number of projects are ongoing in relation to foreign direct investment and outsourcing business services. Projects include new divisions of labour within Europe and the role of China in global value chains. The Editorship of the journal Competition and Change lies within GEBRU.


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By Au Loong-Yu with contributions from Bai Ruixue, Pierre Rousset and Bruno Jetin

Published by Merlin Press in association with Resistance Books and the IIRE.
RRP: £15.95, 326 pages,  ISBN. 978-0-85036-637-2
This book is a collection of essays which look at the inherent contradiction in the rise of China from a class perspective. It argues that China is a bureaucratic capitalist state which is a special kind of state capitalism. Only with bureaucratic capitalism does the merging of the bureaucracy and the state reach a point where the bureaucracy privatizes the state in its entirety and makes the latter a vehicle for underpinning the accumulation of bureaucratic capital.

Combining the coercive power of the state and the power of money, the bureaucracy enjoys all the advantages of state capitalism in promoting both neck-breaking industrialization and taking anti-cyclical measures in the midst of the current Great Recession. Its strength, however, is only the result of a special alignment of class relations conditioned by the 1949 revolution and its later development, combined with China’s particular characteristics and its backwardness. The combined results of all these factors keep the working class docile.

Paradoxically, the rise of capitalist China has also fundamentally changed the conditions which have led to the rise of the absolutist state. It has modernized China to the point that the working class now accounts for nearly 40 percent of the labour force and half of the Chinese population now lives in urban areas. It has led to new perspectives, raised self-esteem and created higher expectations among the new generation of the working class, as is shown in recent struggles.

Meanwhile the deep demoralization among the people since the defeat of the 1989 democratic movement is beginning to recede. On top of this, Chinese state capitalism is beginning to exhaust its strength as it increasingly relies on rapidly expanding public debt.  A new page for China may begin to turn.

What they say about the book

 Au Loong Yu provides the most thorough account of the extent and nature of the transformation of the Chinese state into authoritarian capitalism. This book is essential reading for all those who seek to understand and grasp the dynamics of Chinese-style capitalism and working class resistance to the despotic system. – Immanuel Ness, Brooklyn College; editor, International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest, 1500 to the Present.

This collection of essays on China brings a rare and much needed perspective to the literature on the rising star of the global economy. Most are authored by Chinese Marxist critics of the regime. This “insider” Marxist perspective translates into a discussion of issues rarely covered in the existing literature,including a special focus on the workers movement. Very useful. – Gilbert Achcar, Professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London

A collection of lucid and enlightening essays. Au Loong Yu leaves no doubt that China has become capitalist to the fullest extent – with the party bureaucracy as the new bourgeoisie. This leads to old and new contradictions, not to the end of history. – Bodo Zeuner, Professor in political science, Berlin

A fascinating analysis of contemporary struggles in China situated in a rich theoretical overview of Maoism and class relations, as well as the country’s position in the international system. A powerful and provocative challenge to many misconceptions on the Left that deserves to be widely read and debated.– Adam Hanieh, School of Oriental and African Studies; member of the editorial board of the journal Historical Materialism.


PART 1 – Analysis

On the rise of China and its inherent contradictions: Au Loong Yu
China going global: Au Loong Yu
China – unavoidable rise or possible decline: Bruno Jetin
China – globalization and nationalist responses: Au Loong Yu

PART 2 – Resistance

Labour resistance in China – 1989-2009: Au Loong Yu and Bai Ruixue
From ‘master’ to ‘menial’ – state workers in China today:Au Loong Yu
Disposable labour under social apartheid: Au Loong Yu
The role of the All China Federation of Trade Unions – implications for workers today: Bai Ruixue
New signs of hope – resistance in China today: Au Loong Yu and Bai Ruixue 

PART 3 – Discussion

Maoism: contributions and limitations: Pierre Rousset
How socialist is the Chinese party-state? Au Loong Yu reviews Wang Hui’s The End of Revolution: China and the Limits of Modernity
Liu Xiaobo and the Chinese liberals:Au Loong Yu
Voluntary union or forced assimilation –  the CCP’s policy on Tibet: Au Loong Yu
Alter-Globo in Hong Kong – Interview with Au Loong Yu by New Left Review

How to get hold of a review copy of the book

For a complimentary review copy, email or with your name, address and the name of the publication which will print the review. 

Socialist Resistance, PO Box 62732, London, SW2 9GQ, Tel. 020 7346 8889. 

Merlin Press Ltd., 6 Crane Street Chambers, Crane Street, Pontypool NP4 6ND, Wales, 
Tel. 01495 764100


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