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A Union Vote For Chinese Workers Who Assemble iPhones

Workers at a Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China, in 2010. AFP/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption AFP/AFP/Getty Images

Workers at a Foxconn plant in Shenzhen, China, in 2010.

AFP/AFP/Getty Images

The Chinese workers who assemble iPhones, iPads and tons of other electronic devices may soon be able to elect their own union representatives, the FT reports.

Labor unions technically do exist in Chinese factories, but they're typically controlled by management and the government. So a union run by democratic vote of the workers would be a huge shift.

The workers in question are employed by Foxconn, a giant company with over 1 million employees in China. Foxconn has been under a lot of scrutiny over the past few years, after a spate of worker suicides and accusations of bad working conditions.

Apple, one of many global electronics firms that contracts with Foxconn, brought in an independent group to investigate conditions at the company; the group's report called for union elections.

The recent history of Foxconn and other big manufacturers in China seems in some ways like a sped-up version of industrial history in the U.S. Low pay and dangerous conditions; the rapidly rising wages and increasing industrialization; then, perhaps, more labor rights for workers; and, of course, the inevitable rise of the robots to replace increasingly expensive low-skilled workers.

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