When Does An Autocrat Compromise With Social Forces? The Political Economy Of Labor Policy Reform In China, 1978-2009

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Why, despite no formal representation of the working class in the government, do authoritarian regimes expand labor rights to more workers? After the successful liberalization of its socialist system, the Chinese government began to regulate the labor condition through expanding labor contracting practices from the state to the non-state sector in the 2000s. Challenging the threat of revolution and regime transition argument, this dissertation examines the internal politics within the Chinese state and the dynamics of how Chinese labor officials make use of workers' grievances to secure and enhance their bureaucratic power by introducing rigid labor rules. First, tracing the processes of the reform, I find that the expansion of labor rights to nonstate workers is a direct result of the desire of two Chinese bureaucracies, namely the Ministry of Labor and Social Security and the All China Federation of Trade Unions, to take the opportunity to regain their power that has been relinquished under marketization since the 1980s. This incentive drives these bureaucracies to be a "representative" for workers' interest. Second, employing a diverse-case-selection strategy, I examine three provincial-level regions, namely Beijing, Hunan and Guangdong, and find that local officials' various concerns about their bureaucratic and political power have led to different patterns of regional labor regulatory regimes. Third, based on the three case studies, I generate two hypotheses and include a statistical analysis of the labor policy-making of the 31 Chinese provincial-level regions from 2001-2008. The study explores the influence of labor officials' career prospects on the regional efforts to implement the practice of labor contracting. I conclude that China's promotion of labor rights in the 2000s is mainly motivated by labor officials' self-interests about their bureaucratic and political power. Societal actors have not yet enjoyed systemic influence in China's labor policy-making.

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political economy of reform; labor; chinese politics


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Union Local


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van de Walle, Nicolas

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Bunce, Valerie Jane
Mertha, Andrew
Carlson, Allen R.

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Ph. D., Government

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Government Document




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dissertation or thesis

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