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Wang Chunguang The Changing Situation of Migrant Labor D U R IN G THE LAST 1 5 YEARS, CH IN ESE URBAN AREAS HAVE BEEN TH E SITE of a paradoxical situation: a great numbers of workers in state-owned enterprises have lost their jobs while many rural residents have flocked to the cities to work in the industrial and service sectors. These rural people are called migrant workers because oftheir administrative status and occupation. There are as a result two kinds of workers, one called urban resident-worker (zhigong, literally “employees and workers”), the other peasant-worker (nongmingong). What are the differences between them? Why do we consider the migrant workers a new working class? We shall tiy to identify the characters of this new class according to the occupation, economic, social and administrative status, social identity, and collective behavior of its members. 1. A DEFINITION OF MIGRANT WORKERS Who are the peasant-workers? This concept might be difficult to under­ stand for Westerners since it is a product of the Chinese system. They are workers because they usually work either in an urban factory or in the service sector in the cities, but their administrative status is rural. So, even though they reside in the cities and do not work in agriculture, they are still registered as “agricultural” (that is, they have an “agricul­ tural registration,” nongye hukou). They are workers because they are employees, not employers. They are employed in the individual economy, private enterprises, social research Vol 73 : No 1 : Spring 2006 185 foreign companies, town-owned enterprises, state-owned enterprises, and collective enterprises. Finally, whether in cities or in the countryside, the “peasant workers” are people who have a rural hukou (household registration), but do not work in agriculture. There are a great number of migrant workers in China. Most but not all of the so-called floating people in the cities belong to the cate­ gory of peasant-workers. Also, in rural China, there are many migrant workers who do not belong to this category because they are employed in agriculture, albeit outside their place of registration. Many research­ ers do not pay attention to this latter category. It is difficult to determine the exact number of peasant-work­ ers since there is no reliable data. According to official statistics, farmers represent the largest category of the population, immedi­ ately followed by migrant workers. According to a national sampling survey we conducted in 2001, 41.88 percent of rural laborers were migrant workers. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the total workforce numbered 705.68 million in 1999; 210.14 million held urban employment, and 495.72 million rural employment. Among the latter, agricultural employment represented 50.1 percent, with more than 353.6 million people. The remaining 143.5 million were employed outside agriculture; most were migrant workers. There were 111.773 million urban employees and workers (zhigong) among the urban workforce, and 100 million who did not belong to this cate­ gory but worked in the cities (and are called “floating labor”). Most of them are migrant workers but there are also some private entrepre­ neurs. Therefore, the total number of migrant workers is about 200 million—that is, 17.4 percent of the total population, 31.1 percent of the total workforce, and 38.21 percent of the total rural workforce. This figure is close to the 42.88 percent that we obtained in our 2001 national sampling survey. Thirty-six percent of the 200 million migrant workers work in cities and towns. According to our 2001 national survey, migrant work­ ers represent more than 50 percent of the workers, 57.5 percent of the 186 social research industrial workers, and 37 percent of the tertiary workers. In other words, they represent an important part of the Chinese working class. 2. THE POSITION OF MIGRANT WORKERS IN THE CLASS STRUCTURE OF CHINA Why do we call the migrant workers a new class? Although their occupation is similar to the urban workers, they do not benefit from government policies in terms of employment or welfare. They are not entitled to a regular job (limitless working contracts) and cannot share retirement benefits...


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