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Mandarin w/ English subtitles




Wen Hai (Producer: Zeng Jinyan)











China’s economic miracle has been built on cheap labor. And now, that labor is starting to fight back.

Filmed in the southeastern part of the country, WE THE WORKERS is a vérité documentary that closely follows people organizing workers and fighting for collective bargaining rights. They find themselves up against factory employees who don't understand their rights and fear the consequences of organizing, police and government officials who see them as dangerous troublemakers, and foreign owners who ignore what lax regulations do exist.

Independent (non-government-controlled) trade unions in China are relatively new, as are labor rights groups. Life for activists can be hard and dangerous. Lin Dong, who has previously been imprisoned for helping striking workers, stands on a street corner handing out a labor law handbook and exhorting passersby to understand their rights ("Laws are useless in China," one says to him). Peng Jiayong, whose organizing work has cost him his marriage, lies in a hospital bed and considers how the beating he received at the hands of police might benefit the struggle. Lawyer Duan Yi, who heads the first Chinese firm dedicated to collective bargaining, relishes battles with the government and employers and decries how the country’s intellectuals are "completely disengaged from the needs of workers."

WE THE WORKERS takes us into strategy sessions, onto the picket line, into offices where activists decide how to respond to intimidation by thugs, and into the exceedingly modest apartments of those who’ve devoted their lives to labor. The strategies they use are the same ones that unions the world over have employed: have a plan, be organized, record everything, talk to your fellow workers—and get together, sing songs of solidarity and have some fun.

The problems they face are daunting, whether they are working in heavy industrial processes, grinding down the heads of golf clubs, coiling ropes, or making handbags. But there is hope. As Duan says, after winning the largest collective bargaining gains in the history of the country, "Workers all over the country should learn from you."

  • World Premiere, International Film Festival Rotterdam

  • Grand Prix, 2018 Filmer le travail Festival

  • 2017 Cinéma du Réel Film Festival

  • 2017 International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam (IDFA)

  • 2017 San Diego Asian Film Festival

  • 2017 Chinese Visual Festival UK

  • 2017 Buenos Aires International Film Festival (BAFICI)

  • 2017 Montreal International Documentary Film Festival (RIDM)

"One of the most important Chinese language documentaries of recent years."

Chinese Visual Festival

"Takes the viewer to the front line of labour relations in China."

The Times (UK)

"Captures the vital elements of labour organizing...delivers a new form of partisan filmmaking."

V Cinema

"On the front lines of China's record-level labor unrest, Wen's film offers rare insight into how such collectibe action is planned and organized, and how hard NGO employees try to stay within the moving goalposts of what activism is permissible in China."


"Shot with long takes and a fly-on-the-wall feel, the film deals with workers' attempts to stand up to employers."

Hong Kong Free Press

"This extraordinary film transports the audience to the world of labor organizing in China. It rightly puts the protection of workers' rights back in the hands of workers and the labor non-profits that support them. It should be required viewing for anyone wishing to gain an insight into China's emerging labor movement."

Professor Tim Pringle, Labour, Social Movements and Development, SOAS University of London

"Reveals and supports the birth of collective action stripped of an ideology that long stifled it."

Cinema du Reel

"Detailed, intimate and at times terrifying."

South China Morning Post

"Extraordinary! We are transported into the complex, hard and dangerous world of China’s labor activism, composed of hundreds of labor NGOs, independent bureaus, and councils. We the Workers should be watched by all those interested in labor, social movements and activism, and the political economy of China.”

Professor Alessandra Mezzadri, author of the book 'The Sweatshop Regime'

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