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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chinese Wal-Mart Staff Forms Union

BEIJING -- Workers at Wal-Mart Stores have formed their first trade union in China, following demands from the government that the company allow organized labor in its stores, according to reports in the official news media over the weekend.

Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has long sought to bar unions from its stores, particularly in the United States. But the government-controlled All-China Federation of Trade Unions has campaigned to set up branches in China, where Wal-Mart employs 30,000 people at 60 outlets.

Any new union in China is unlikely to resemble its counterparts in the West. Labor activists often accuse the tightly controlled All-China Federation of siding with management rather than workers. The union, founded in 1925 during the era of Chinese Nationalist rule, says on its web site that it has 134 million members.

Harley Shaiken, a labor economist at the University of California, Berkeley, said that China's state-backed unions were known for supporting, rather than challenging, foreign corporations.

The pressure on the American retailer to agree to a union is part of a concerted drive to establish branches of the official union in all foreign-financed companies in China.

"The union will likely be quite compliant with management," Shaiken said. "There might be a nudge now and again, but the union structure is designed to encourage this investment, not to challenge it."

On Saturday, at a Wal-Mart store in Fujian, a southern province, 25 employees elected Ke Yunlong, 29, as the chairman of a seven-member trade union committee, the official New China News Agency reported. Earlier, 30 Wal-Mart employees had applied to local labor authorities to register a union.

"According to China's trade union law," the agency's dispatch said, "enterprises or institutions with 25 employees and above should establish trade unions."

Beth Keck, director of international corporate affairs for Wal-Mart, said the company was aware of media reports that employees in China had formed a union. She said the company had not discussed the issue with the All-China Federation, but she acknowledged that the federation had earlier signaled its intention to try to unionize Wal-Mart's Chinese work force.

She added that the company hoped to have a "cordial and productive relationship" with the federation.

"We know they have been interested in having a relationship with our company for some time," Ms. Keck said. "We will, of course, be looking forward to how this will evolve."

China, with a vast and growing pool of relatively affluent consumers, is an important market for Wal-Mart as it reorganizes its international operations. The company said Friday that it planned to sell its unprofitable business in Germany. In May, it withdrew from the South Korean retail market.

But it has been growing rapidly in China since it opened its first store in the southern city of Shenzhen, these days a booming financial center, in 1996.