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Elon Musk praises Chinese workers for ‘burning the 3am oil’ – here’s what that really looks like | Elon Musk

How do you turn into the richest man in the world? In Elon Musk’s case, a part of it includes making workers in China put in hours that can be unacceptable based on labor norms elsewhere.

On Tuesday, the Tesla boss praised Chinese factory workers for pulling excessive hours whereas taking a shot at American workers. “There is just a lot of super talented hardworking people in China who strongly believe in manufacturing,” the billionaire stated. “They won’t just be burning the midnight oil, they will be burning the 3am oil, they won’t even leave the factory type of thing, whereas in America people are trying to avoid going to work at all.”

Musk’s remark comes as Tesla’s huge Shanghai “Giga-factory” pushes its workers to the restrict to fulfill manufacturing targets amid an ongoing pandemic lockdown there.

In April, Tesla restricted its Shanghai workers from leaving the manufacturing facility underneath a so-called “closed-loop” system initially developed by Chinese authorities to comprise Beijing Olympics members. While locked inside, the workers have been reportedly made to work 12-hour shifts, six days in a row whereas sleeping on manufacturing facility flooring. Production at the plant was forced to halt this week because of components shortages, the company stated.

Labor rights and security violations have been reported at Tesla’s Shanghai manufacturing facility because it opened in 2018, with some workers making as little as $1,500 a month in what an investigation by native journalists dubbed the “Giga-sweatshop.”

Even in the United States, Musk is well-known for his disregard for labor norms and work-life steadiness: the tech billionaire infamously declared “nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week”. He has bragged about making Tesla’s US staff work 100-hour weeks, whereas claiming to have labored 120-hour weeks himself. In March, Musk referred to as an all-hands meeting for his different company, SpaceX at 1am.

These practices are on par with China’s excessive work tradition, nicknamed “996” during which workers are anticipated to work from 9am to 9pm, six days every week. The apply has been the supply of protests in recent times and has been characterised as a type of modern slavery.

Workers walk outside the Tesla Gigafactory in Shanghai, China, in November 2019.
Workers stroll outdoors the Tesla Gigafactory in Shanghai, China, in November 2019. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Eli Friedman, a China labor professional and affiliate professor of worldwide and comparative labor at Cornell University’s ILR School, stated Musk’s comment ought to be understood in the “broader context of American corporations taking advantage not just of the low cost of labor in China, but the flexibility.”

For bosses like Musk, “that’s the comparative advantage: the fact that you have hundreds of thousands of workers that you can literally wake up in the middle of the night and put them on the production line,” Friedman stated.

“It’s kind of tapping into a kind of Orientalist narrative about these kind of robotic Chinese workers who, [Musk] says in a sort of valorized way, that this is a good thing,” the researcher added.

Officially, Chinese labor legislation mandates a 40-hour work week, with staff allowed as much as 36 hours of time beyond regulation a month – which might come out to only over a 48-hour work week. But that’s not what occurs in apply.

“There’s no pretence anywhere that that’s enforced,” stated Friedman. “Excessive overtime is kind of a built-in feature of the whole model of industrial development in China. Very long hours and compulsory overtime, while not legal, are also completely the norm. And this is done regularly in consultation with local governments who are also tasked with enforcing the labor law.”

Employees in China are sometimes requested to signal a “striver’s pledge” which waives their proper to time beyond regulation pay and paid break day. And whereas many companies in China have unions, the unions are funded by the employer, which makes them primarily powerless to barter towards administration, Friedman famous.

Tesla didn’t reply to questions on its manufacturing facility’s work hours and insurance policies.

China’s gruelling tradition of maximum hours has been celebrated by tech billionaires in the nation, together with Alibaba’s Jack Ma, who has referred to as the “996” system a “huge blessing,” and rival company JD.com’s Richard Liu, who has referred to as workers who work fewer hours “slackers”.

In latest years, a rising motion of Chinese workers has stood as much as oppose overwork, with some activists utilizing tools like GitHub to compile lists of Chinese corporations accused of violating labor legal guidelines. Anger over the nation’s excessive work tradition intensified final January after a 22-year-old employee for Shanghai-based e-commerce agency Pinduoduo collapsed and died after leaving work at 1.30am, after a run of brutally lengthy shifts.

Incidents like these helped gas a development amongst younger Chinese social media customers early final year selling “tang ping”, or “lying flat” on the floor as a passive protest towards work, which has since been restricted on the Chinese web. Later in the year, China’s high court docket ruled that compelled and extreme time beyond regulation was unlawful, however the ruling has not been nicely enforced. Work stoppages, typically unofficial “wildcat” strikes, proceed to happen usually in China.

Chinese and American labor norms have clashed in recent times, as bosses pit groups towards one another.

The 2019 Netflix documentary “American Factory” described the conflicts that arose after a Chinese billionaire, Cao Dewang, opened a manufacturing facility in an deserted General Motors plant in Ohio. “American workers are not efficient, and output is low,” Cao complained at one level in the movie. “I can’t manage them.”

Last week, the Wall Street Journal revealed that a few of the US-based staff at Chinese-owned TikTok have been anticipated to drag back-to-back all-nighters and spend as many as 85 hours every week in conferences to maintain up with their Chinese colleagues.

In the United States, staff lined by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act should obtain time beyond regulation pay for working greater than 40 hours every week. But the legislation locations no cap on the variety of hours an worker can work.

The grim backdrop to Musk’s feedback is that “American workers are in a very subjugated position as well, unfortunately”, stated Friedman.

“The not-at-all subtle threat is that these Chinese workers are a threat to you white American workers. If you don’t meet that standard, then your jobs are on the line.”

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