Since China's economic reform began in 1978, millions of migrant workers have moved from inland provinces to coastal cities in search of work. This had led to an abundance of cheap labor and a prevalence of despotic management styles in the private sector since the 1980s. This scenario changed significantly from the 2000s with the proliferation of workers' strikes and the efforts of the party-state to regulate workplace relations. Against this backdrop, scholars have debated about the extent to which labor relations in China have changed, and where they may be heading. As a contribution to this debate, this special issue brings together six articles with strong empirical evidence to unpack the complexity and dynamics of workers' struggles and organizations in South China in the context of a changing political economy. Going beyond the polarization of an optimistic vision on labor movements, and a pessimistic view that emphasizes state power, we pay equal attention to the power of state institutions and workers' agency in shaping labor relations during the past four decades.