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From The dGenerate Films Collection
We the Workers

A film by Wen Hai
Produced by Zeng Jinyan

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film stillChina’s economic miracle has been built on cheap labor. And now, that labor is starting to fight back.

Filmed in the southeastern part of the country, WE THE WORKERS is a vérité documentary that closely follows people organizing workers and fighting for collective bargaining rights. They find themselves up against factory employees who don't understand their rights and fear the consequences of organizing, police and government officials who see them as dangerous troublemakers, and foreign owners who ignore what lax regulations do exist.

Independent (non-government-controlled) trade unions in China are relatively new, as are labor rights groups. Life for activists can be hard and dangerous. Lin Dong, who has previously been imprisoned for helping striking workers, stands on a street corner handing out a labor law handbook and exhorting passersby to understand their rights ("Laws are useless in China," one says to him). Peng Jiayong, whose organizing work has cost him his marriage, lies in a hospital bed and considers how the beating he received at the hands of police might benefit the struggle. Lawyer Duan Yi, who heads the first Chinese firm dedicated to collective bargaining, relishes battles with the government and employers and decries how the country’s intellectuals are "completely disengaged from the needs of workers."

WE THE WORKERS takes us into strategy sessions, onto the picket line, into offices where activists decide how to respond to intimidation by thugs, and into the exceedingly modest apartments of those who’ve devoted their lives to labor. The strategies they use are the same ones that unions the world over have employed: have a plan, be organized, record everything, talk to your fellow workers—and get together, sing songs of solidarity and have some fun.

The problems they face are daunting, whether they are working in heavy industrial processes, grinding down the heads of golf clubs, coiling ropes, or making handbags. But there is hope. As Duan says, after winning the largest collective bargaining gains in the history of the country, "Workers all over the country should learn from you."

"One of the most important Chinese language documentaries of recent years." Chinese Visual Festival

"On the front lines of China's record-level labor unrest, Wen's film offers rare insight into how such collectibe action is planned and organized, and how hard NGO employees try to stay within the moving goalposts of what activism is permissible in China." CNN

"Reveals and supports the birth of collective action stripped of an ideology that long stifled it." Cinema du Reel

"Takes the viewer to the front line of labour relations in China." The Times (UK)

"Shot with long takes and a fly-on-the-wall feel, the film deals with workers' attempts to stand up to employers." Hong Kong Free Press

"Detailed, intimate and at times terrifying." South China Morning Post

"Captures the vital elements of labour organizing...delivers a new form of partisan filmmaking." V Cinema

"This extraordinary film transports the audience to the world of labor organizing in China. It rightly puts the protection of workers' rights back in the hands of workers and the labor non-profits that support them. It should be required viewing for anyone wishing to gain an insight into China's emerging labor movement." Professor Tim Pringle, Labour, Social Movements and Development, SOAS University of London

“An extraordinarily honest and comprehensive view of the life of a labor activist in China. A fundamental testimony [and] a powerful reminder of the plight of Chinese workers and those who strive to support them. …Since Wen Hai shot the documentary, all the main protagonists have suffered at the hands of the party-state.”Professor Ivan Franceschini, The Australian National University, in the journal Critical Asian Studies

"Extraordinary! We are transported into the complex, hard and dangerous world of China’s labor activism, composed of hundreds of labor NGOs, independent bureaus, and councils. 'We the Workers' should be watched by all those interested in labor, social movements and activism, and the political economy of China.” Professor Alessandra Mezzadri, author of the book 'The Sweatshop Regime'

World Premiere, International Film Festival Rotterdam
Grand Prix, 2018 Filmer le travail Festival
2017 Cinéma du Réel Film Festival
2017 International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam (IDFA)
2017 San Diego Asian Film Festival
2017 Chinese Visual Festival UK
2017 Buenos Aires International Film Festival (BAFICI)
2017 Montreal International Documentary Film Festival (RIDM)

174 minutes / Color
English; Mandarin / English subtitles
Release: 2017
Copyright: 2017

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Subject areas:
Asia, Asian Studies, China, Economics, Labor Studies, dGenerate Films Collection - Documentaries, Social Movements

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