Thursday, June 17, 2010

Attempting to Quell Discontent

Premier Wen Jiabao is calling for better living conditions for migrant workers, saying officials should treat them like their own children. China owes them its wealth, he added.

"Rural migrant workers are the main army of the contemporary Chinese industrial workforce," he said earlier this week. "Our wealth and our tall buildings are all distillations of your hard work and sweat," he told a group of migrant workers in Beijing.

However he stopped short of saying the wages of some 200 million migrant workers should be raised after the spate of suicides at Foxconn and the strikes at Honda.

Wen pledged to improve public facilities in the countryside, such as schools and hospitals, saying migrant workers would have less to worry about in their hometowns. But what kinds of improvements is he talking about? Schools and hospitals in rural areas need better-qualified teachers and doctors as well as better equipment. If he's talking about a new paint job, then that's hardly sincere.

He also stopped short of announcing a further relaxing the hukou household registration system. From time to time, cities like Shanghai and Guangzhou and the central government claim they are making it easier for migrant workers to get an urban hukou. But the reality is that the requirements are so demanding that it is practically impossible for the majority of migrant workers to get this hukou in order to enjoy social benefits in the city, like education for their children or healthcare.

So while the premier is trying to show that he is supportive of the workers, he hasn't made any concrete measures to really improve their welfare. "Grandpa Wen" appears sympathetic in the hopes of quelling discontent, but until the central government really takes significant steps to improve things for this giant section of the population, the disillusionment of creating a "harmonious society" continues.

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