Podcast: A New Deal for China’s Workers?

Play Button Pause Button
0:00 0:00
  • Elizabeth C. Economy
    Senior Fellow for China Studies
Episode Guests
  • Cynthia Estlund
    Catherine A. Rein Professor of Law, New York University School of Law

Show Notes

After three labor activists in China were detained last week following their investigation into conditions at a factory that manufactures Ivanka Trump-branded shoes, Chinese labor disputes have once again made international waves. But labor unrest in China is far from new. Over the past decade, workers have mobilized to demand more rights and better protections, organizing an estimated 2,663 protests and strikes in 2016 alone. On this week’s Asia Unbound podcast, Cynthia Estlund, Catherine A. Rein professor of law at New York University School of Law and author of A New Deal for China’s Workers?, discusses the causes of unrest and offers a comparative look at China’s changing labor landscape. She argues that the prospect of an independent, organized labor movement in China poses a unique threat to the Chinese Communist Party—an organization that since its inception has considered itself the sole legitimate representative of workers. As a result, the government has adopted a “whack-a-mole” strategy that attempts to quash individual disputes and reform specific labor standards without creating an alternative system for worker representation. Is the strategy sustainable in the long term? Listen above to hear Estlund’s take on where labor reform in China is headed and what lessons American workers and policymakers can learn from China’s experience.


Listen to the podcast on Soundcloud >>

Top Stories on CFR

International Organizations

The 2022 FIFA World Cup has kicked off in Qatar, and billions of fans worldwide are tuning in to the world’s most popular live event. And yet as in years past, the Qatar Cup is transpiring under the shadow of controversy.

Middle East and North Africa

The kafala system regulates the lives of tens of millions of migrant laborers in the Middle East, but growing outrage over human rights abuses, racism, and gender discrimination has fueled calls for reform.


Government leaders are optimistic that COVID-19 is becoming endemic, meaning more predictable and manageable. But many scientists say it’s too soon to behave like the pandemic is over.