When historians look back on our times and try to pinpoint the moment when the American century became the Chinese era, they may emphasize a recent battle over labor practices. To be specific, the Chinese government has drafted a law to strengthen the rights of unions to organize and fight workplace abuse while the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai has lobbied against reform, threatening to discourage the opening of US factories in China if the law is passed.

It is an important moment because it represents the first time in the last three decades that the Chinese have questioned the American neoliberal model of economic development and sought to chart their own course. Responding to the vast inequality and social unrest created by what has essentially been Robber Baron capitalism, the Chinese, especially its New Left intellectuals, may well be rediscovering the role of social justice, collective organizing, the welfare state, and workers’ rights.

This moment also exposes the fundamental cynicism of American multi-national corporations. Having already used the cheap labor supplied by Chinese factories to undermine US labor unions and lay off hundreds of thousands of American workers, they are now employing similar tactics in China.

What with the passage of legislation sanctioning torture and, now, US multinationals signing onto crushing domestic and overseas labor unions–so much for America’s moral authority.