- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

BEIJING (AP) — China’s state-sanctioned labor body is targeting Kodak and Dell in a campaign to organize unions at foreign-owned companies after its success at unionizing Wal-Mart’s 62 Chinese outlets, an official of the body said yesterday.

“We are going to exert very high pressure on these companies until unions are established there,” said Guo Wencai, director of grass-roots organizing for the All-China-Federation of Trade Unions.

The campaign is aimed at doubling the ACFTU’s presence in foreign companies by the end of this year to 60 percent of the total, or about 90,000 enterprises, Mr. Guo said at a press conference.

ACFTU-affiliated unions have been set up in more than 300 foreign companies since the first Wal-Mart Stores outlet was organized on July 29, Mr. Guo said. They include Swiss food company Nestle SA and General Semiconductor Inc., a unit of Malvern, Pa.-based Vishay Intertechnology Inc.

Mr. Guo’s comments were the ACFTU’s first detailed explanation of its unionizing goals since its Wal-Mart campaign.

Foreign-financed companies employ millions of Chinese workers but have remained largely outside the country’s union system.

Chinese law gives employees of any company with a work force of at least 25 people the right to form a union. Chinese companies are unionized, but foreign employers often are accused of pressuring employees not to organize.

The ACFTU is the umbrella body for unions permitted by China’s communist government, which doesn’t allow independent labor groups and harasses and jails activists. Unions affiliated with the body represent about 150 million Chinese workers.

The body is encouraging its local branches to target major foreign companies, especially those deemed anti-union, Mr. Guo said. He cited Eastman Kodak, Dell and Taiwan’s Foxconn Electronics as examples of anti-union employers.

When asked for comment, Dell spokesman Colleen Ryan would only say the company had “nothing to report at this time” on the matter. Dell employs about 6,000 workers in China. Kodak spokesman David Lanzillo said the company was still assessing the situation and not yet ready to comment.

The ACFTU often is regarded not as an advocate for better pay and working conditions for employees but as an intermediary that represents employers to workers.

But Mr. Guo rejected suggestions that it isn’t aggressive enough in representing workers and said it hoped to win better pay and benefits for employees of foreign companies.

“In fact, the ACFTU has done a lot to protect the rights and interests of Chinese workers,” he said.

A Wal-Mart in the eastern city of Jinan signed an agreement in September to hold talks on a union contract, Mr. Guo said, and other stores were expected to follow suit.

At Wal-Mart, the ACFTU plans to focus first on trying to raise wages for part-time workers, he said.

Wal-Mart, which employs 30,000 people in China, has few unions elsewhere in its worldwide operations. It resisted efforts to organize its Chinese workers for two years before agreeing in August to help set up official unions at all its China branches.

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