Earlier this week, a Foxconn factory in Taiyuan, northern China, shut down production when a brawl broke out in the dormitories that involved as many as 2,000 workers. The real question is this: how long until it happens again?
According to the government’s Xinhua news agency, the reason for the original dispute isn’t known, but workers from two different provinces became involved. Most likely they were backing up fellow migrants from their own province. Forty people were injured in the dorm melee, and five thousand police were called in to subdue the crowd: at least two cops for every worker.
It’s not known what Foxconn manufactures at the plant in Taiyuan, but a riot shortly after the launch of the iPhone 5 certainly got the world’s attention. The Taiwanese company is one of Apple’s contractors and assembles iPhones and iPads. The problem is that what seemed like a bottomless pool of cheap labor, ripe for exploiting, is drying up. Yes, young Chinese people are still willing to spend a few years working in a factory to save money for their futures, but they’re beginning to want more, and to resist poor conditions and mandatory overtime. When employees have little time to do much other than work, sleep, and think about how dull and frustrating their lives are, that’s a recipe for unrest.
“We attract many fewer workers now than in 2010,” one recruiter for Foxconn told the Washington Post. “People would rather work at a hotel or other places. It’s not a lack of workers in these areas — it’s a problem of spiritual emptiness.”