Author: Ching Kwan Lee.
This article examines one of the pre-eminent logics of global capital flow – the pursuit of flexible labour regimes – as a window to explore the interaction between Chinese investments and African communities. It analyses the respective “politics of casualization” in the Chambishi mine on the Zambian Copperbelt and the Tanzania–China Friendship Mill in the port city of Dar es Salaam. Both Zambian and Tanzanian workers have witnessed and resisted precipitous “informalization” of employment since the Chinese assumed full or majority ownership in the late 1990s. Wildcat strikes were staged by workers in both cases. Nevertheless, Zambian copper miners, but not Tanzanian textile workers, seem to have successfully halted this tendency of casualization. After several years of struggle, in 2007 they signed new collective agreements with the Chinese management, who agreed gradually to convert all casual and contract jobs into “permanent” pensionable ones. By explaining the divergent outcomes of these two cases of labour resistance, I hope to identify the major factors shaping the encounter between Chinese managers and African workers.