Rule Without Law: China's Economic Slowdown and Crackdown on Labor Activism
Mayer, Jennifer R.
In late 2015, the Chinese Communist Party arrested scores of labor activists and rights defense lawyers and revoked the licenses of labor NGOs. While many scholars have labeled the attack on the labor movement as a part of the Communist Party's wider crackdown on civil society, the unprecedented crackdown on labor activism coincided precisely with a similarly unprecedented trend: slowing economic growth. Using institutional analysis, I demonstrate why decentralized legal authoritarianism in China is only sustainable in times of economic growth. The regime has targeted labor activists as a means to impede the exercise of center-granted labor rights that imposes high costs on an unstable economy. The conclusion nuances the idea of "GDP/performance-legitimacy" in the context of growing rights consciousness, and reveals how China’s authoritarian government will rule in contravention of its own labor laws as a survival strategy if its economy continues to falter.
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