Thousands of IBM workers in China – some carrying banners describing IBM as a “Sweat Shop” and “We are not merchandise” and many wearing blue lab coats – launched protests Monday that continued Tuesday in reaction to layoffs and the sale of IBM’s low-end server business to Lenovo.

Unlike at the Research Triangle Park complex where layoffs spark little if any public protest, including layoffs that started last week, the IBM facility in Shenzhen City was blocked with hundreds of protesters gathered at the entrance.

Shenzhen is a major city in southern China located near Hong Kong. IBM operates an x86 server facility there. The x86 server group is being sold to Lenovo for some $2.3 billion, pending government approval. Lenovo, which is largely based in China, operates its executive headquarters in Morrisville.

IBM’s x86 server business is based in the Triangle.

A fluent speaker of Mandarin Chinese and a native of China reviewed two protest videos and translated for WRALTechWire.

Many people carried signs and banners while at one time they also sang the Chinese national anthem.

Slogans on the banners included:

  • “Sweat Shop”
  • “We are not merchandise; we have dignity; and we have human rights”
  • “Give me back my youth! Change the labor terms”

In another video, workers were shouting “Bad Guys” in Chinese.

A local news site as translated for WRALTechWire from Cantonese claimed that:

  • The layoff was due to selling IBM x86 unit to Lenovo
  • Many workers were given $6,000 yuan (less than$1,000 USD) to leave by March 12
  • Pregnant women were treated poorly in the factory.
  • Many were working 15 hours (8AM-11PM) daily for a long time.
  • These workers are feeling that they are not treated as human by IBM, and are asking IBM to compensate their health before dumping them.

Local Government Offers Help

Workers in one video were told to unit and to “send a representative to the negotiation table.”

The woman speaking was a representative from the city, telling the workers on strike that City is speaking to IBM and trying to hold a three-way negotiation,” the translator said. “She is asking workers to elect  [and] send representatives.”

Some workers also could be overheard saying that the protesters should calm down and not riot.

“Kicking up a fuss will not help,” the translator quoted them as saying. Instead they should “unite and organize.”

Chinese news site NTDTV also carried coverage of the strike.

The reviewer of that website for WRALTechWire noted that many of the IBM workers involved had worked more than 10 years at the company. They said they were being fired “without appropriate compensation.”

IBM’s severance packages were described as “imparity clauses.”

The workers also demanded that IBM compensate them “according to China’s labor law.”

A Google translation of the NTDTV headline reads:

“IBM big strike to protest layoffs of thousands of people in Shenzhen unfair compensation.”

The accompanying story is based on reporting by the Reuters news service.

7,500 Workers Involved in x86 Deal

In the x86 sale announced in January, Lenovo and IBM said some 7,500 workers in the x86 business would be transferred to Lenovo.

Lee Conrad, the national coordinator of the union Alliance@IBM which is seeking to unionize IBMers in the U.S., said American workers should follow the example of the Chinese protestors.

“We need to replicate what IBM workers in China are doing,” Conrad said. “For too long IBM workers in the US have just accepted what executive management dished out. Time to say no more.”

Alliance@IBM has begun to receive comments from disgruntled Chinese IBMers “only recently,” according to Conrad. “There appears to be some serious labor issues as this strike illustrates,” he said.

Of those, some 2,000 are based in Research triangle Park.

IBM launched a global “rebalancing” of its work force on Feb. 12, having said in January that it would spend $1 billion to cover the costs of layoffs and other associated expenses. Layoffs began hitting in the U.S. last week.

The company will not disclose how many people are being cut as part of what IBM calls a “resource action.”

IBM employs an estimated 9,500 people across North Carolina.

IBM Defends Layoffs

In a statement last week, IBM confirmed the layoffs and defended the need for them.

“IBM continues to rebalance its workforce to meet the changing requirements of its clients and to pioneer new, high- value segments of the IT industry,” the company said.

The full statement from IBM spokesperson Doub Shelton follows:

“As reported in our recent earnings briefing, IBM continues to rebalance its workforce to meet the changing requirements of its clients, and to pioneer new, high value segments of the IT industry. To that end, IBM is positioning itself to lead in areas such as Cloud, Analytics and Cognitive Computing and investing in these priority areas. For example, already this year we have committed $1 billion to our new Watson unit and $1.2 billion to expand our Cloud footprint around the world. In addition, just this week IBM announced a $1 billion investment in platform-as-a-service Cloud capabilities, as well as investments in areas such as nanotechnology which will bring hundreds of new jobs to New York State. This also creates new job opportunities at IBM. At any given time, IBM has more than 3,000 job openings in these and other growth areas in the US.

“IBM’s total workforce has remained stable over the past three years, and IBM now employs more than 400,000 people worldwide.”