ZHONGSHAN, China/TOKYO (Reuters) -- A strike at a Honda Motor parts supplier in China could augur broader demands across China's vast manufacturing belt as workers seek a bigger piece of the nation's growing economic wealth.
About 100 workers wearing white overalls and blue caps milled about the factory grounds of the Honda Lock plant, a supplier of locks to Honda's car-making operations in China, today after many of the 1,500 workers walked off the job on Wednesday.
The standoff was relatively calm, in contrast to last week when hundreds gathered outside the gates and riot police briefly kept workers from leaving.
The strike is the latest in a series to hit factories around southern China's Pearl River Delta and a few other regions by workers demanding a greater piece of China's growing economic pie.
The outburst of strikes continues a pattern of recent years that took a pause at the height of the global financial crisis, said Liu Kaiming, executive director fo the Institute of Contemporary Observation, a privately funded group in Shenzhen that focuses on labor issues.
"We've already seen a growing number of strikes in previous years, especially in 2007 and 2008, when the new labor contract law was introduced, and then there was a gap in 2009, but now we're seeing the trend resume," Liu said.
"The Honda strike is an extension of that... It also shows that there is a trend that is being driven by a new generation of migrant workers. They are more willing to speak out about their grievances, and are less tolerant of long hours and tough conditions than the older generation," he said.
The strike at Honda Lock was the third to hit a Honda parts supplier in China in the last few weeks. The other two, at suppliers producing transmissions and exhausts, were settled after employees received wage increases.
Management at Honda Lock has offered a pay increase of 100 yuan ($15) in additional wages and another 100 yuan in allowances, but some employees at the plant said that is not enough.
"I'm more optimistic now we'll get more of a wage rise," said one worker surnamed Liu leaving the factory on a bicycle today. "They urged us to resume work for the next few days and some assembly lines are working again."
Stories of intimidation of holdout strikers, including a campaign to hire replacements, were also circulating, but they could not immediately be independently confirmed.
Chang Kai, dean of the school of labor relations at Remin University in Beijing, said in an interview in Chinese media that employers rarely considered how to link the development of businesses and of employees.
"What many of our businesses think about is how to cut costs, how to lower wages," he said. "Collective negotiations are also not mature. There is no appropriate framework for them, nor are there means for applying pressure."
Honda had previously said production at the Honda Lock plant in the city of Zhongshan re-started on Saturday after three days of stoppage. Some production was running today, but only partially as a number of holdouts had sabotaged operations, said Honda Lock spokesman Hirotoshi Sato.
Guangqi Honda, one of Honda's China car-making joint ventures, was closed today for a public holiday that would run through to Wednesday, said Honda spokeswoman Akemi Ando in Japan.
Production at Guangqi Honda's two carmaking plants was disrupted last week because of strikes at the other two parts suppliers.
"Generally, working conditions at car assembly plants are much better than in other industries, whether we're talking about wages or general treatment," said Wen Xiaoyi, a researcher at the China Institute of Industrial Relations in Beijing.
"But conditions at parts suppliers tend to be worse. The reason is car assembly requires mostly skilled workers with some specialized training, but car parts manufacturing is less sophisticated, so workers are less educated and their pay is lower."