Inside China’s Automobile Factories: An Interview

China’s automobile industry has grown considerably over the past two decades. Massive foreign investment and an increased scale and concentration of work spurred the creation of a new generation of autoworkers with increased bargaining power. At the same time, China entered the global competition in mass-producing automobiles at a stage when the level of that competition was very high and profit margins were very thin. The state, as a consequence, has restructured the industry and increased competition since the late 1990s, and this has forced Chinese automakers to move toward a “leaner & meaner work regime,” according to Lu Zhang’s new book. The result for autoworkers has been an increased intensity of work, reduced job security, stagnant wages, a lack of opportunities to advance, and an inferior status in a very hierarchical factory social order. Inside China’s Automobile Factories: The Politics of Labor and Worker Resistance (Cambridge University Press, 2015) explores one important consequence of this transformation, the emergence of “labor force dualism” (a divide between formal and temporary workers) as a central component of labor relations in the Chinese auto industry. We had a chance to talk about it for the New Books in East Asian Studies podcast, and you can listen to our conversation about it by heading over here.