The BWI Resolution on China:
Proper criticism of the ACFTU, but failure to recognize Hong Kong’s independent union movement

International trade union movement online

The BWI Resolution on China: Proper criticism of the ACFTU, but failure to recognize Hong Kong’s independent union movement


Between the growing economic power of China, diplomatic efforts from the official Chinese trade union (the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, or ACFTU) and the actions of the Chinese government, the international community is paying more attention to trade union activities in China. Some hold the view that the ACFTU is evolving and that international unions should establish contact with it, or even recognize it, so as to support the trade union movement and improve labour conditions in China.


While international unions debating this question fiercely, the Building and Wood Worker's International (hereafter BWI) held its world congress on 4 and 5 December 2013, in which it passed a resolution on China. It is the second global union federation, after International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Association (IUF), to declare a clear and critical attitude towards ACFTU.



Clear and critical view on ACFTU
BWI represents about 12 million building and wood workers, from over 330 affiliates and some 130 countries. The HKCTU-affiliated Construction Site Workers General Union (hereafter CSWGU) is a member of BWI. The resolution reflects BWI's view on the ACFTU, the only trade union that is recognized by the Chinese government. Some extracts of the resolution follow:

“Considering that the China’s official trade union confederation, the All- China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is a state-controlled organization whose pprinciples and agenda in international relations serves the diplomatic relations of the State;”


“Considering that the worsening working conditions of workers in China as evidenced by the wave of strikes, riots by migrant workers, increasing number of accidents at construction sites, and, the growing number of insecure agency, temporary and contractual workers. The ACFTU is seen by workers as a bureaucratic organization of the government and does not represent workers interests. With the growing trade union activism at the enterprise level and the workers-initiated and democratic plant unions, the challenge for the ACFTU is to either to join the growing workers movement or become irrelevant.”


“Noting that the ACFTU, and the trade unions of the Central State-owned enterprises (CE) have been silent and unresponsive on the labor issues regarding state investments and that ACFTU engagement with the international trade union movement is limited to comfortable labor standards such as agency work and social security and avoiding the fundamental trade union principles of freedom to form unions, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike.

“Finally noting that engagement with the Chinese MNCs with the objective of reaching a global framework agreement is not viable at this point due to the additional fact that engagement with the ACFTU is not seen as strategic in addressing the issues of Chinese MNCs since it does not have the direct influence on Chinese MNCs operating outside China and it does not have direct control over the unions and collective negotiation with the CE in China.”



“Intended” comments from the HK affiliate
The HKCTU and the CSWGU both agree with the BWI's observation and analysis on the ACFTU in principal. Regarding BWI's recommendations, the CSWGU intends to raise two concerns.


1. The CSWGU is skeptical on the feasibility of BWI's recommendation to “explore engagement with Provincial or Municipal ACFTU Branches (e.g. Guangdong Province or Shenzhen Municipal unions) or enterprise unions who have shown positive steps towards trade union representative election and collective bargaining”. Given that the Chinese Government does not allow independent unions and all municipal, provincial and enterprise unions are simply branches of the ACFTU, it is unlikely to launch “positive steps towards trade union representative election and collective bargaining”.


2. BWI states that “all affiliates should report to BWI the various activities, organizing and negotiation with Chinese MNCs”. The CSWGU demands that the BWI improve its transparency, to disclose these reports to all affiliates.