Text by Ni Junchen Photographs courtesy of Blue Collar’s Co-operatives
Soon after Spring Festival, China’s biggest annual holiday, many cities once again suffered a labor shortage as they have for several consecutive years. Greater numbers of scholars and journalists sounded alarms: When excess “subsistence” labor is fully absorbed into the modern sector, an era of labor shortage dawns - the “Lewis Turning Point” named for economist Arthur Lewis’ model.
He Zhongzhou, who holds a degree in Chinese language, would have little interest in such economic terms if not for his passion for public welfare. As a veteran journalist, He has heard many stories about rural laborers working in urban areas. This labor demographic has increased exponentially over the past few years, as more and more set off from rural areas with big dreams accented by fear. After many years working in media, He walked away in 2011 to prepare to launch a non-governmental organization, Blue Collar’s Co-operatives (BCC), aiming at helping workers in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, a hotbed for migrant workers.
He named his organization “Blue” after the color of the suit that the first group of migrant workers wore in the wake of China’s implementation of economic reform and opening-up policies, and such workers are classified as “blue collar” in English. As secretary-general, He hopes to provide migrants training, education, and employment, as well as negotiation help and support for protection of their rights.
What Is Needed?
China’s official statistics count 250 million migrant workers across the country. “They serve as the backbone of China’s rise and an engine to change the world,” many declare. “What specifically do they need most?”
This is the fundamental issue for He’s organization. “I think blue-collar workers want to see hope and opportunity,” he asserts. “The best solution available today in China is education. I don’t want to see them treated as machines like in Chaplin’s Modern Times. Education and enlightenment can pave the way to sustainable life. BCC’s work in the Pearl River Delta in southern China is trying to blaze new paths for civilian education by devising courses that address true needs of the populace.”