Labor unrest appears to be on the rise in China. Last month, as many as 2,000 workers skirmished with hundreds of police and security guards on the campus of the Taiwanese company Foxconn Technology Group. This 21st-century version of a company town within the industrial city of Taiyuan houses 79,000 workers who live in company-owned dorms, eat in company-owned cafeterias and put in long days on assembly lines.
Although it isn’t yet clear exactly how the riot started, resentment over poor conditions and aggressive guards almost certainly played a role. Such complaints are widespread in China’s company towns. They have an even longer history in the U.S., where such towns proliferated through the 19th and early 20th centuries.