November 5 2011
Sun-wook Chung, Ph.D. Candidate
What has interested me since I came to Cornell is how globalization influences business and labor, particularly in China. Supported by ILR’s international grant, I spent this spring and summer in China conducting qualitative and quantitative research. In differing roles as a part-time labor consultant, factory HR intern, and an ethnographer on the assembly line, I conducted in-depth interviews with local government officials, labor inspectors, labor arbitration committee members, labor and HR scholars, labor lawyers, human resources management consultants, human resources managers, local union cadres, grassroots union representatives, journalists, and workers. Building on this qualitative data, I further surveyed establishments and workers in several factory zones.
The most interesting part of my interviews was with Chinese workers. So-called ‘second generation of migrant workers’ born in the 1980s and 1990s are straightforward in expressing their thoughts. These young workers, mostly the only child, are relatively better educated and have clear idea about what they want. I found that they shop around for better wage and working conditions in a factory zone, particularly with the help of high-tech tools like mobile phone and the Internet. They smartly make use of recent labor shortage to their advantage, thereby giving an extremely hard time to factory managers who have to meet buyer’s order. Factory managers are paying far more attention to working environment to attract workers, accordingly. It would be interesting to follow how these young workers navigate their ways in a rapidly changing Chinese workplace. Now that I am back at ILR, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to collect the data in China and for the overall experience. I look forward to analyzing and continuing my research work on the Chinese workforce.