Vietnam’s and China’s Diverging Industrial Relations Systems: Cases of Path Dependency

Anita Chan

This seminar looked at why Vietnam and China, one-party states that allow only one official trade union, are traversing different paths in their trade unions’ institutional structures, the state’s and trade union’s attitudes toward strikes, their willingness to allow independent trade unions and willingness to engage with the international labour union movement. These will be examined in terms of the path dependency of their recent histories, in which changes have been incremental on a path laid down by pre-existing entrenched institutions, until each national system no longer operated properly and new contingencies obliged the leadership to revamp the system. As a consequence of China’s and Vietnam’s divergent path dependencies, when external contingencies finally forced institutional change, countries have veered onto divergent trajectories—the Trans Pacific Partnership energising Vietnam to debate the acceptance of autonomous trade unions, while Xi Jinping in China has intensified Party control over industrial relations.

About the speaker

Anita Chan is co-editor of The China Journal and a Visiting Fellow at the Political and Social Change Department of the Australian National University. She was formerly a Research Professor at University of Technology Sydney, and since retirement has been a Visiting Scholar at the Political and Social Change Department of the National Australian University. She has published widely on Chinese workers’ conditions, the Chinese trade union, labour rights, and comparative labour issues. Her ten books include Children of Mao: Personality Development and Political Activism in the Red Guard Generation (1985), China’s Workers under Assault (2001), Chen Village: Revolution to Globalization (2009), and, as editor, Labour in Vietnam (2011), Walmart in China (2011) and Chinese Workers in Comparative Perspective (2015). Her current research project compares the industrial relations systems of Vietnam and China.

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