Labor has always been one of the more sensitive issues in the U.S.-China relationship; today it is exacerbated by the downturn in the U.S. economy, coupled with nationwide foreclosures, job losses in manufacturing and service industries, and recent bank closures.
According to the AFL-CIO, China accounts for 1.3 million of the 3.4 million American jobs that have been lost since 1998. The AFL-CIO charges that because of substandard labor practices, Chinese labor costs in manufacturing and exports are between 10 and 77% lower than they would be were China to observe international labor standards.
Yet, simply blaming China’s low labor standards and low costs for American job loss is an oversimplified view that does not take into account the complexity of the issue as it plays out in both countries, and the role of other players such as American corporations, multinationals, American consumers, and Chinese workers, in addition to the governments of the two countries. Kent Wong, in fact, has suggested that rather than blame China, the interests of American unions would be better served by focusing on the things they have in common with Chinese workers and by helping China’s fledgling labor movement.