Several months after the announcement of a major overhaul of China's sluggish factories, workers in this southern regions have yet to see much change in the way they are managed and rewarded.
Chinese Communist Party Chairman Hua Kuo-feng announced in February that factory revolutionary committees - a decade-old experiment in management by consensus - were being abolished in favor of individual managers. Yet, two out of three large industrial enterprises here said this month their revolutionary committees remained intact and had no definite termination date.
Since last year the official party press has been calling for rewards for those workers producing the most and discipline for shirkers. But factory officials here report good workers receiving only certificates, or money rewards amounting to little more than a dollar a month. Dismissals of inefficient workers remain unheard of, despite overstaffing and some admitted problems with production.
Hsieh Kuang-chih, chairman of the revolutionary committee at the Kweilin spun silk factory, said when asked about bonuses that "Some workers get a special paper listing their achievements and some money." Like other managers, who remember the days when factory officials were fired for advocating bonuses. Heieh seemed reluctant to discuss the matter at any length.
The listless attitude of many Chinese workers remains a central obstacle to the modernization of the most populous country in the world. Chinese workers take their jobs as a matter of right, rather than opportunity. Managers are afraid of cracking down on a member of a working class that has been granted such high political status in Marxist and Maoist doctrine.
Jobs at the Kwellin spun silk factory, as elsewhere in China, are often passed from father to son or mother to daughter without management exercising any right to review the merits of the new employees.
"When a worker retires, she or he is allowed to send one child to the factory." said Hsieh, a husky former army officer. In the five years he has been at the factory, not one of the 2,500 workers has ever been fired.
"Three were given a year's warning and they reformed themselves," he said.
More than 85 percent of the factory's workers got small raises last year, about $83 a month on average monthly wages of about $30. For many those were the first substantial raises in 10 to 20 years. Since they were spread over almost the entire workforce, they left no apparent incentive to work harder than one's fellows. The small bonuses awarded to some good workers have been no more than $1.75 to $4 for a three-month period.
As in most Chinese factories, workers here did not seem to be moving at a frantic pace. The job security, guaranteed retirement income and other benefits have led high school graduates to maneuver energetically for factory work, and many are shoehorned into a worker pool that is already overloaded. Bottlenecks in the assembly line sometimes leave workers completely idle for long periods of time.
Workers who have left China report that factory newcomers who try to work at full speed are often loudly ridiculed by their fellow workers.
"Are you trying to make the rest of us look bad? . . . one remembered being told.
When Hsieh led a few foreign tourists into the silk factory cutting room, three women who had been chatting with three others at an adjoining table quickly jumped back to their positions, then just sat their with hands folded. Only one of the six women in the room did any cutting during the few minutes the visitors were there. Production sheets posted in the large spinning room noted that two shifts were ahead of their monthly quota, usually set quite low in Chinese factories, but the third shift was behind.
Ho Liu-hua, a 37-year-old worker painting wax fruit in a handicraft shop in the city of Foshan, 250 miles east of here, said she could not tell what her quota was. She painted the wax forms that came to her from the other parts of the shop, and let it go at that.
The revival of pre-1967 style one-man management is supposed to tighten discipline and end the coddling of lazy worker, but it does not seem to have taken hold here yet.
Revolutionary committees like the one that runs the silk plant were an experiment begun in the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960 peasants, workers, youths and others were given representation in factory or commune management that was once controlled by one or two party administors. Foreigners who have worked in Chinese plants say this meant an unhappy worker could stop production anytime and call a meeting to express his grievance.
Chairman Hua acknowledged that some factories were "paralyzed" by the system, and called for one-man management supervised by local party committes. Vice Chairman Teng Hsiao-ping, thought to be Peking's most outspoken advocate of Westernstyle management techniques, said "This is the only way to make our work orderly and efficient and bring about high speed development, and this is the only way to define the duties incumbent on each post and to meet our the proper awards and penalties."
Yet, at the silk factory, Hsieh said abolishing the revolutionary committee "takes time" and such things have to be done "in stages."
Lin Kuo-chih said roughly the same thing about the revolutionary committee that still manages his state fruit farm in Nanning, 200 miles south of here. Lin, a production official, reported a recent general pay increase for almost 85 percent of the farm's 3,300 workers, who raise mostly pineapples on Nanning's rolling hills. Lin was vague about the payment of bonuses.
At the Suwan pottery factory in Foshan, with only 580 workers, the revolutionary committee has been abolished. But again, bonuses have been small and have gone to only "a very few," said Shun Yin-chiang, production director.
Chairman Hua said in February the government planned to enforce the principle of "he who does not work, neither shall he eat." Nevertheless, few managers here bring up the subject of discipline. The Chinese realize the old appeals to work hard for the revolution have gone stale, and even the reform-minded leadership in Peking is not sure it has a few answer.
The Yugoslavs, who have received several Chinese delegations lately, say profit-minded factory managers in Belgrade are regularly asked one question by their Chinese visitors: "How do you keep your workers so enthusiastic?"