BUSINESS

Chinese Workers Now Almost As Ungrateful As American Workers: Seven And A Half Things To Know

09/25/2012 08:06 am ET

Thing One: Riot In China: It looks like maybe Chinese workers aren't so thrilled any more to just have jobs.

Earlier this year, when labor conditions at Foxconn plants in China were exposed as being kind of horrible, defenders jumped up and said that the Chinese people working there were just super-grateful to be working at all. Sure, standing up for 12 hours a day for mindless, repetitive labor for low wages, and spending the rest of your time crammed into dorm rooms far away from home in primitive conditions, with suicide nets outside the building to keep people from getting out of their next shift with the old being-dead excuse, sounds bad to us pampered Westerners, but to the workers it's paradise, these defenders said. These people are totally glad to no longer be trying to survive on whatever they can scratch out of their farms.

Apparently, though, Chinese workers suddenly have higher standards, because they are starting demand some improvement in their working conditions, as this week's riot at a Foxconn plant in Taiyuan shows. This puts workers in direct conflict with their employers, who are struggling to make ends meet during a rough patch in the Chinese economy, the Wall Street Journal writes. Incidents of worker unrest in Chinese factories have averaged 29 per month this year, up from 11 per month a year ago, according to the China Labour Bulletin.

A lot of this has to do with the bad economy, but some of it also has to do with the escalating smartphone wars between Apple and Samsung, notes Stanley Lubman of China Real Time Report. It's no coincidence, he suggests, that this latest Foxconn riot happened at the same time Apple was announcing record first-weekend sales of the iPhone 5. In order to meet rising demand, Lubman notes, Chinese factories are increasingly relying on temp workers and interns, who get abused even more than the regular workers do.

Even after the Chinese economy improves, it is doubtful that Chinese workers will settle back into passive acceptance of low wages and terrible working conditions. Labor will keep getting more expensive in China, meaning the Apples and Samsungs of the world will have to find other workers to exploit, or China's factories will get more automated, as Foxconn parent company Hon Hai suggests to the WSJ. The process will be long and painful, suggests Lily Quo at Quartz, who notes that workers in Communist China are for various reasons not forming unions to fight for better conditions.

Thing Two: Germany Goes Back To The Nein Bucket: Remember how a couple of weeks ago we said Germany had saved the world? Yeah, sorry, that may have been premature. Germany has dipped into its institutional-sized bucket of Nein again, to put the brakes on a bailout of Spain and yet another cash disbursement to Greece, the Wall Street Journal writes, all because Angela Merkel is getting some resistance from her governing coalition at home. Meanwhile, German lenders are heavily exposed to the Spanish economy, as is Germany's credit rating, the WSJ notes. At the same time, the IMF is pushing for still more Greek austerity, investors are dumping Spanish bonds, and Spanish people are eating out of garbage cans. In other words, just another Tuesday in Europe.

Thing Three: RBS Was Constantly Cooking The LIBOR: Royal Bank of Scotland, which is majority owned by the British government, has fired a handful of traders it accused of rigging LIBOR, the short-term interest rate that affects borrowing costs throughout the economy. But it turns out that managers at the bank were constantly asking those traders to rig LIBOR, so the bank is still in trouble, Bloomberg writes.

Thing Four: Hospitals Asked To Pretty Please Not Steal From Medicare: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder yesterday warned hospitals that they had better not be cheating on medical records to milk extra money out of Medicare and Medicaid, The New York Times writes. The warning followed an earlier NYT story suggesting hospitals may have squeezed $1 billion with medical-record manipulation.

Thing Five: Discover Customers 'Discover' Money Missing: Credit-card company Discover will give $200 million back to customers and pay a $7 million fine to settle charges it tricked customers into buying expensive and useless "services," the Washington Post writes. This is the latest feather in the cap for the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, demonstrating why the financial-services industry despises it.

Thing Six: When 'Pay' Isn't Really 'Pay': Ballooning executive compensation has become to obscene that it has gotten a little bit embarrassing for companies. The companies have responded in the most reasonable way possible: They just take "pay" and call it something different, the Wall Street Journal writes. What income inequality?

Thing Seven: Caterpillar Can See All The Way To 2015: Equipment maker Caterpillar cut its forecast for earnings all the way to 2015, citing a slowdown in spending by commodity miners, Bloomberg writes. And 2013 and 2014 aren't looking so hot, either. Next, Caterpillar will be predicting the next four Super Bowl winners.

Thing Seven And One Half: Replacement Refs Cook And Eat Shark They Already Jumped: The NFL's replacement-ref nightmare reached new extremes of absurdity last night, as a painfully bad call was the deciding factor in a Monday Night Football game. Of course, Twitter was there.

Also, happy birthday, William Faulkner, born 1897.

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Calendar Du Jour:

Economic Data:

9:00 a.m. ET: Case-Shiller 20-city Home Price Index for July

10:00 a.m. ET: Consumer Confidence for September

10:00 a.m. ET: FHFA Housing Price Index for July

Corporate Earnings:

Carnival Corp.

Heard On The Tweets:

@zerobeta: Let's be honest, everyone on here has at one point in their life wished they could open a plane window.

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@kevinroose: “I’m glad Romney is from Bain Capital and not Goldman Sachs, joked" guy who was not at all joking. on.wsj.com/Si5Jhk

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@robdelaney: Amazing to think that I was once a helpless little baby but now I'm a giant helpless man.

And you can follow me on Twitter, too: @markgongloff

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