China's Labor Pains

April was a grim month in Wei Jianzhong's sooty, barracks-like neighborhood in Zhengzhou, the capital of central Henan province. That's when the Henan No. 5 Provincial Construction Co. fired its latest round of workers. The victims have gathered in Wei's cramped living room to commiserate. There's Xiong, a 53-year-old former steamfitter who is trying to survive on $12 a month in unemployment benefits. He reminisces about the time two years ago when thousands of workers from a nearby factory blocked railroad tracks and erected huge posters of the patron saint of Chinese workers—Chairman Mao—to demand their jobs back. He participated in...

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