Wal-Mart in industrial Chinese city gets Communist Party branch

Thursday, August 24th 2006, 10:46 am
By: News On 6

SHANGHAI, China (AP) _ Wal-Mart, capitalist retailer for the masses, now has its own Communist Party branch.

Earlier this month, Communist Party and Communist Youth League branches and a trade union were set up at a Wal-Mart outlet in the northeastern industrial city of Shenyang, a staffer in the store's communications department said Thursday, confirming Chinese media reports. As is typical of many media-shy Chinese, she gave only her surname, Liu. She would not discuss further details.

A bastion of private business, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has fought efforts to form unions elsewhere in its worldwide operations. But in recent weeks it said it agreed to work with the state-sanctioned labor federation to allow unions in its outlets in China, where it has 30,000 employees.

It is not clear exactly how the party branch would operate or whether it had an office in the Shenyang store.

Repeated phone calls to the public relations department of Wal-Mart's China headquarters in the southern city of Shenzhen went unanswered Thursday afternoon.

The All-China Federation of Trade Unions, reportedly at the behest of President Hu Jintao, has been campaigning for several years to set up party-controlled unions in Wal-Mart branches as well as other foreign-invested companies.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which has 60 stores in 30 Chinese cities, resisted for two years before employees in the southeastern city of Quanzhou successfully voted to set up a union in late July.

Shenyang Wal-Mart has only two party members and 16 Communist Youth League members out of its 389 employees, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

But the Xinhua report stressed that the branch's function would be to promote better business.

The party and youth league branches ``will encourage members to play an exemplary role in doing a good job and that will be helpful to business development,'' it quoted Chen Lie, a Communist Party district leader in Shenyang, as saying.

Chen said the groups would not interfere with management or operations of the retailer, which is based in Bentonville, Ark.

Since July, employees of at least 16 other Wal-Marts in China also have formed unions, according to the ACFTU, the umbrella group for unions permitted by the communist government. Overall, China aims to unionize employees at 60 percent of its foreign companies by the end of this year.

China does not allow independent labor organizations. Unions usually represent the work force of a single company or outlet, rather than an industry, and they traditionally have been allied with management.

The communist leadership has sought to preserve the party's influence in the business sector amid sweeping capitalist reforms and a huge influx of foreign capital and management.

Once a thriving industrial hub of China's planned economy, where factory workers enjoyed elite status and cradle-to-grave benefits, Shenyang has seen massive layoffs in recent years.