‘Class consciousness and disempowerment of Chinese migrant workers in transnational communities: Why does it matter for Chinese communities in the UK?’

For the literature on international migration and diasporic studies, there is a tendency to emphasise homogenous elements such as shared ethnic background, social network, and cultural similarities in immigrants’ identity. Such approach may underestimate the differences (and sometimes conflicts) of interests between ethnic employers and migrant workers. Based upon a series of fieldwork in Italy and the UK, we argue that class consciousness is a key to understand not only the voices, perceptions and reactions of Chinese migrant workers against poor working conditions in some of Chinese owned workplaces, but also the impacts on the structure and power relationship in diasporic Chinese communities. Equally important is the factors and constraints from class consciousness which vary country by country. With a focus on the latest development of Chinese immigration and employment conditions in the Chinese business in the UK since the 21st century, this paper aims to address the following questions: To what extent do Chinese migrant workers in Italy and the UK have class consciousness? Why is class consciousness among Chinese migrant workers in the UK than in Italy? What are key factors responsible for the formation or spread of class consciousness? Research findings are drawn from a number of participatory observations in Chinese owned businesses and in-depth interviews with Chinese entrepreneurs, migrant workers and community leaders in East Midlands in 2009 plus a Nottingham Chinese community survey in 2013. Implications for ethnic Chinese community cohesion and integration in the UK are discussed.