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How resource-based state-owned enterprises manage collective labor relations: a comparative case study in China

Jingfu Lu (School of Journalism and Communication, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China)
Chuhong Wang (Digital Economy Academy, Yango University, Fuzhou, China)
Luan Jiang (School of Economics and Management, South China Normal University, Guangzhou, China)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 17 October 2022

Issue publication date: 2 January 2023




This study explores labor relations management behaviors of administrators and Party organizations in resource-based state-owned enterprises (SOEs) in China based on social exchange theory and embeddedness theory. It builds up a process model for managing collective labor conflicts in resource-based SOEs in the Chinese context.


A comparative case study is conducted using two resource-based SOEs with similar backgrounds but differing in effectiveness of the management of collective labor conflicts. Data are collected from interviews, archival sources and a one-month participatory investigation.


The administrators and Party organizations of resource-based SOEs manage collective labor conflicts by means of human resource practices (HRPs) and Party organizations' boundary-spanning behaviors (PBSBs), respectively; foremen and unions perform a mediation role, especially under circumstances where administrators employ high-performance HRPs and PBSBs are closely integrated with the production process. The marketization of the “new danwei system” exerts a “provocation effect” but does not necessarily lead to collective labor conflicts. The root cause of conflicts lies in the inherent defects of specific HRPs and PBSBs, as well as the absence of the Simmelian tie in the social exchange interaction of actors.


First, this study develops a new construct of PBSBs for enterprises' Party organizations and explores its underlying mechanisms, which enriches the range of actors studied in the context of Chinese labor relations; Second, the authors develop a new dimension called “exemplification” building on the existing three-dimensional structure of boundary-spanning behaviors, which expands boundary-spanning theory. Third, the findings that Simmelian tie structure could better maintain the stability of labor relationship in the mediation process of labor-capital conflict management enrich the social exchange theory from the perspective of structure. Finally, this study deepens the existing research on HRPs by proposing a new explanation for disputes.



The work was supported by the Fund of Social Science Planning Project of Guangdong Province of 2022 “Research on the evaluation and promotion mechanism of Mainland media's ‘Four Forces’ in Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao under the context of ‘one country two systems’” (GD22CXW05), the Guangdong Province Education Science Project (Higher Education Special Fund) of 2022 “Research on the communicating capability, influencing capability, guiding capability and credibility of Guangdong media in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area under ‘One country, Two Systems’” (2022GXJK092), the Fund of Science and Technology Planning Project of Fujian Province “The constructing mechanism of harmonious labor relations in cross-border enterprises between Fujian and Taiwan under the context of institutional duality”(2020R0091) and Fujian Social Science Planning youth project “Research on the development mechanism of agricultural e-commerce industry in Fujian Province from the perspective of big data (FJ2020C062)”.


Lu, J., Wang, C. and Jiang, L. (2023), "How resource-based state-owned enterprises manage collective labor relations: a comparative case study in China", Employee Relations, Vol. 45 No. 1, pp. 209-242.



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