Over the last two decades multi-candidate direct elections for village committees have spread across China, attracting considerable attention both within China and from external observers.
Though the Communist Party has resisted the spread of direct elections upwards to township and provincial levels, village committee elections form part of a broader scenario of internal Party reform that aims at enhancing the accountability, probity and representativeness of Party and government leaders. It is against this background that the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) has also joined the fray and initiated direct elections for grassroots trade unionists.
This Working Paper examines the rise of direct elections in the ACFTU, their significance for the reform of China’s sole trade union federation and for improving workers’ conditions, and their broader implications for processes of governance in China. The first section outlines the diverse pressures on the ACFTU to reform and the various initiatives taken to this end. It then traces the emergence of direct trade union elections at grassroots level in China, sketching the arguments used to promote, constrain and resist their implementation.
In the third section the paper focuses on the case of grassroots direct trade union elections in Guangdong province, highlighting both the variations in practice and the political complexities of the process. Finally, it reflects on the implications of these findings for the future development of the ACFTU, workers’ rights and broader processes of governance. The paper draws upon documentary research and fieldwork carried out in China between 2003 and 2004.