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Undercover at Foxconn shows workers 'numbed' (IPAD,Laptop,cellphone...

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06/03/2010 04:09 AM
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Undercover at Foxconn shows workers 'numbed' (IPAD,Laptop,cellphone...
Undercover at Foxconn shows workers 'numbed'

Thu, Jun 03, 2010
China Daily/Asia News Network

My days spent undercover, pretending to be a manufacturing worker at Foxconn, were triggered by what was at the time nine suicide attempts in five months. Seven of the company's employees had died. By now, that number is up to 10.

Participant observation has been among my primary tactics during the few years I have spent in journalism, working mostly as an investigative reporter.

This was no coincidence. The widening income gap and emerging clashes of interests between social groups in recent years gave rise to investigative journalism and participant observation as a way to help the reporter and the readers understand the rationale behind incidents like these.

The Foxconn suicides did not particularly strike me. My wife and I both spent some time in Shenzhen and are accustomed to alienating ourselves from who we are, from each other and from the product of our labor.

We, like many in that city, consider ourselves part of a larger Foxconn that incorporates all its "citizens" into a machinery that relies on people like us sacrificing our health for a rise in economic numbers.

But the recent string of suicides came from society's bottom - where little attention has been paid and whose members' sacrifice we take for granted - and indicates a shift in the mentality of a younger generation of workers.

So, as I, a self-proclaimed high school graduate from rural Beijing who had spent years laboring in Shenzhen for fast cash, was ordered to stand straight under the blazing sun for hours with endless rows of people who lined up - and mostly paid - to become production line workers for Foxconn, the constant sneering, bullying and shouting of company staff no longer mattered.

My focus was on the degree to which Foxconn was different from the million other companies in this business and what led people here to jump to their deaths one after another.

I was unable to confirm growing rumors about the role of Foxconn's security forces in the incidents, but something else is of interest.

Aside from a way of production that reduces its staff to an absolute decimal point - almost anyone can pay to get in and be replaced at any second - the company has fostered a culture where its staff are trained to shiver in conformity before any authority - be it money, the boss and management or foreigners (who Foxconn's products are mostly for).

I have been led to believe this corporate culture was a direct cause of the recent tragedies.

Every rural kid came to this hub of the "world factory" to realize their "Chinese Dream". But most of them ended up sacrificing themselves to realize that dream for people completely out of their league.

Meanwhile, at Foxconn, the corporate culture has numbed them to an extent where any organization and collective struggle are deemed not only undesirable, but also backward. That, then, leaves them with only one choice.

Suicide is the ultimate form of contestation for individuals, but only collective struggle could truly win social change for people suffering the same working conditions.

For workers on the production line at Foxconn and beyond, killing themselves means no more than to prove to the world their belittled existence and reaffirm to fellow comrades that there is no escape.

But there indeed is light at the end of the tunnel. That's why, as stories of despair at Foxconn fade, those of hope have emerged from Foshan, Guangdong to Pingdingshan, Henan and Lanzhou, Gansu.

To rephrase Karl Marx, there is merit in the belief that events of great importance occur twice; the first time as tragedy, the second as comedy.

-China Daily/Asia News Network

[link to news.asiaone.com]