Employment relations at global automotive subsidiaries in China and Mexico – converging or diverging?

Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Frido Wenten


Gerpisa colloquium (2016)


China, employment relations, Mexico


This contribution addresses if, how and why the employment relations at a German car manufacturer’s subsidiaries in Mexico and China show signs of convergence or divergence. In particular, it will address how dynamics between managerial implementation ‘from above’ and workers’ responses ‘from below’ converge and diverge; and how this produces a related convergence or divergence in the performance of shop floor institutions and wider strategic company decisions.

The presentation is based on a recently completed PhD project on the constitutive role of local social and political conditions – especially the widely neglected agency of workers – in the transnational expansion and local adaptation of the enterprise. Qualitative interviews with blue-collar workers, trade union officials and managers, as well as participant observation at one Mexican and five Chinese plants was carried out in two six-months fieldwork periods in Mexico and China between August 2012 and September 2013. Additional interviews were conducted with relevant scholars, government officials and labour activists.

The presentation will proceed in three steps. First, based on fieldwork results patterns of convergence and divergence in wage systems, time regimes, techno-organisational aspects of the production process – and workers’ related grievances – will be presented in form of a static comparison. Second, convergence and divergence in the genealogy and functions of these conditions is explained from an agency-centric perspective focussing on industrial policy and the interaction of management and workers on and beyond the shop floor. Third, these insights are used to analyse causes and effects of more recent transformations in the company’s operations in both countries. This comparative historical perspective will allow us to improve our understanding of current employment conditions in one of the largest global car manufacturers at the two most important locales for automotive production in the Global South.

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