Wal-Mart forms its first unions in China

Wal-Mart, an icon of American capitalism, has had its first taste of Communist influence. On the morning of July 29, Wal-Mart’s first union was formed over 6,000 miles away from the United States.
After heavy demands from the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), Wal-Mart China formed a union in Quanzhou, located in the province of Fujian in southeastern China.
Since late July, at least 17 unions have formed in the 60 stores located throughout China.
The ACFTU is heavily involved in enhancing the role of government in Chinese-related business.
 “One of the major tasks of the ACFTU in 2006 is to push foreign-funded or transnational companies to unionize,” said Xu Deming, the organization’s vice-president, to BBC News.
Conversely, the ACFTU is often a liaison between the corporation and the workers to harmonize relations, rather than an organization that concentrates on better wages and more benefits.
Wal-Mart China had sidestepped the ACFTU’s demand for unions for over two years and has been in China without unions since 1996. Even in the United States, Wal-Mart hired worms within their corporation and fired those who spoke of unionizing.
However, Wal-Mart China recently had a change of mind, and made their compliance with the ACFTU clear. A company statement read, “Should associates request formation of a union, Wal-Mart China would respect their wishes.”
Robert Williams, Voehringer professor of economics, said “(Wal-Mart) may be enticed by this large market, so they may be willing to put up with things which they normally wouldn’t.”
George Guo, associate professor of political science, agreed. “Wal-Mart realized the huge market in China, and they had to make a compromise,” Guo said.
This compromise resulted in the establishment of the unions.
“China has a long tradition for a unity system,” Guo said. Citing more reasons for the unionization of Wal-Mart China, he added, “The Chinese society is gradually checking into a market economy; the people are less and less controlled by the government,”
Although these unions are a large step, there is still skepticism surrounding them. “It is still unclear if (the unions) will work to protect worker’s rights,” said Li Qiang of China Labor Watch.
However, unions sometimes coincide with what is best for the corporation.
“It’s not inconceivable that a union can affect a dysfunctionally managed business and, over time, make it better,” Williams said. “Often times, unions help polarize things as well.”
When asked if the unions in China may serve as a template in the United States, Williams said, “The model of starting in one place and moving to another is the norm.”
It is possible that the unions in China may lead to Wal-Mart unions in the United States.