Exploring factories in China, the industrial world
What does a person from our country imagine a Chinese factory to be like? An old, damaged building where the children sew cheap socks that immediately fall apart? Or something like the Foxconn factory (makes Apple products) that is massively funded by the West and is abusing Chinese workers?
Every factory is different. I saw a factory where I was afraid to enter because in the black, damaged hall with broken windows was a hammer weighing tons and at every stroke the flames blazed from the red-hot piece of iron. And in the same province, only a few kilometers away, there is a new beautiful factory with a similar hammer with a strength of 19000 tons – a machine so big and modern that you won’t be able to find one in Slovakia. In China it is common that the big factories hire small family businesses for part time jobs, such as drilling or stretching metals.
In these factories, the defendant of China or the ISO quality inspector would come into their own. It is necessary to watch where one walks because the iron filings are lying everywhere. You have to be careful about what you touch because there is a thick layer of black oil everywhere. Right next to the machine, there is a small building built out of cement where the mother of a family dries the clothes, while under the hanging clothes her husband carries a heavy forged piece on a small crane for redrilling. Moreover, I came across a situation once when Slovak engineers saw the finished product of Chinese factories and they shook their heads because not even their own production can reach such high quality. The factory was so clean that you could eat from the floor, despite the fact that there were tens of machines standing by. People were still working on many of them.
Once I assisted in a foundries trade; half of the products were made in Chinese foundries and the other half in the Czech Republic.
In the Research Institute in Trnava, we asked a specialist on chemical analysis if after the research he could guess which sample is Chinese and which Czech. Of course the absolutely unusable sample was, according to him, the Chinese one and he suggested we immediately make a claim. His face was in shock when we told him that the unusable sample was made by gold Czech hands while the Chinese sample easily reached the European quality.
I often remember the visit to the factory where they manufacture ropes and other products made of phosphorus. We came to the production hall and there was not a soul. No worker. Our trust for the enterprise started to fade and so we asked where everyone was. Why was there nobody working? And the man asked us: “And how would you like to make phosphorus during the day? It only shines in the dark; we only work at night.” This actually didn’t occur to us.
The casting of plastic furniture is certainly an incredible experience. The huge hose pours the plastic to big pliers that hide a form inside. As soon as the form is full, the pliers close and they cook the plastic. Then, the pliers open and the new table falls out. Next the workers with chainsaw sharpeners come and they start to sharpen the flat plastic leftovers, like when we were kids and we sharpened the plastic leftovers from the toy soldiers after we took them from the plastic surfaces. It was a throwback to my childhood, only a few tens of tons heavier.
The production line of the main boards for HTC mobile phones was a never ending line. Everything was motorized – somewhere there’s a worker who only stares at the computer and at the end of the line the finished boards fall into a big basket. That was more like the Foxconn Company that manufactures Apple products. It was also a Taiwanese company. I saw the managers responsible for the quality and they told me that in the beginning they had to work 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. Now they are in a different position and after 5 years they work only 10 hours, 6 days a week. But nobody forces them. However, as soon as they don’t want to work, there are thousands of others in Taiwan who are willing to work this much. Factory workers normally work overtime and they don’t get paid for it – not by force but by necessity. They care about their career progress and they are willing to sacrifice a lot to it. An ordinary worker does his eight hour shift and for each extra hour worked, he gets additional salary. Many bosses who were pushed by the delivery deadlines complained to us that if the workers work overtime, it will be expensive. For working on Saturdays it is obligatory to pay the worker 200% and on Sundays and holidays, 300%. So far in all the factories I visited it was exactly like this.
China is diverse and varied. You can find everything there. But you don’t have to get fooled by today’s media. Not everything they say is a lie, but often it is just one side of the coin.