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Using survey data from China, I examine how migrant workers respond to violations of labor law in their workplaces. The central puzzle explored is why, given apparent widespread violations, some workers choose not to pursue remedies. I find that although workers with shared local identities with their employers are more likely to work without employment contracts, they are less likely to be exposed to safety and health hazards at work and less likely to interpret problems experienced as a violation of their legal rights. This paper extends the research on grievance behavior by drawing on research from Law and Society and social networks to understand how these subjective interpretation processes and social identities outside of work influence grievance behaviors. While the empirical focus is on China, the theoretical extensions may help explain why workers in other settings fail to express grievances when confronted with workplace violations.


Suggested Citation
Yang, D. (2017, November). Why don’t they complain? The social determinants of Chinese migrant workers’ grievance behaviors [Electronic version]. Paper presented at Conflict and its Resolution in the Changing World of Work: A Conference and Special Issue Honoring David B. Lipsky, Ithaca, NY. Retrieved [insert date], from Cornell University, ILR School site:

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Copyright held by the authors.