The Collision of Nation State Bias and High School Science Club Management

November 28, 2022

CNN offered some interesting pictures of the labor management misunderstanding in Zhengzhou, China. Even though I have been to China several times, I was not sure what made Zengzhou different from other “informed” cities struggling with what may be an ill-advised approach to Covid. In fact, the images of law enforcement and disgruntled individuals are not particularly unique. These images are more interesting when a blurry background of Apple and a Taiwanese company add a touch of chiaroscuro to the scenes.

What is interesting is that “Apple Has a Huge Problem with an iPhone Factory in China” mentions the “Taiwan contract manufacturing firm Foxconn.” CNN, however, does not offer any information about the involvement of individuals who want to create issues for Foxconn. China and Taiwan sort of coexist, but I am not certain that the Chinese provincial government either in Henan or the national government in Beijing are particularly concerned about what happens to either Apple of Foxconn.

The fact that workers suddenly became upset suggests that I have to exercise a willing suspension of disbelief and assume the dust up was spontaneous. Sorry, a “Hey, this just happened because of pay” or some similar dismissive comment won’t make me feel warm and fuzzy.

The write up asserts:

The Zhengzhou campus has been grappling with a Covid outbreak since mid-October that caused panic among its workers. Videos of people leaving Zhengzhou on foot went viral on Chinese social media in early November, forcing Foxconn to step up measures to get its staff back….  But on Tuesday [November 22, 2022] night, hundreds of workers, mostly new hires, began to protest against the terms of the payment packages offered to them and also about their living conditions. Scenes turned increasingly violent into the next day as workers clashed with a large number of security forces. By Wednesday [November 23] evening, the crowds had quieted, with protesters returning to their dormitories on the Foxconn campus after the company offered to pay the newly recruited workers 10,000 yuan ($1,400), or roughly two months of wages, to quit and leave the site altogether.

Seems straightforward. A  confluence of issues culminated in a protest.

Now let’s think about the issue this way. These are my working hypotheses.

First, Foxconn may not perceive the complaints of its employees as important. Sure, the factory workers have to do their job, but these are Chinese factory workers. Foxconn has a Taiwan spin. This may translate into Chinese government passivity. Let the Taiwan managers deal with the problems.

Second, Apple is a US outfit and it embraces some of the tenets of the high school science club management method. The kernel of the HSSCMM is that science club members know best. Others do not; therefore, if something is not on the radar of the science club, that “something” is irrelevant, silly, or just plain annoying.

Third, the workers have some awareness of the financial resources of Foxconn and Apple. Thus, like workers from an Apple store to the quiet halls of the Apple core spaceship, money talks.

Fourth, Covid. Yep, not going away it seems.

What happens when China is not too interested in Foxconn, Foxconn is not too interested in Chinese workers, and Apple is busy inventing ways to prevent people from upgrading the Mac computers?

That’s what CNN understands. Protests, clashes, and violence. Toss in some Covid fear and one has the exciting story for consumers of CNN “real” news.

Is there are fix? For China and its attitude to Taiwanese businesses which allegedly exploit Chinese workers, sure. I won’t explore that solution. For Foxconn, sure, but it will take time for Foxconn to de-China its production operations. For Apple, not really. The company will follow the logic of the science club: Find some people who will work for less.

Net net: Apple and its HSSCMM will probably not find too many fans in the Middle Kingdom. And Foxconn? Do China and Apple care?  Apple cares about money. China cares about the Middle Kingdom. Foxconn cares about what? Building plants in the US… soon?

Stephen E Arnold, November 28, 2022


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