Crippling strike? Minor dispute? In the long run, it almost doesn't matter.
FORTUNE — Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the truth of what happened last week at Foxconn’s Zhengzhou factory complex — where Apple’s iPhone 5s are being assembled at a furious pace — lies somewhere between a Chinese labor advocacy group’s account and that of the factory’s owner, Taiwan-based Hon Hai.
The New York office of China Labor Watch claims that 3,000 to 4,000 workers went on strike last Friday, causing a “widespread work stoppage” on the iPhone 5 factory floor that lasted most of the day.
Hon Hai categorically denied the report, telling western news organizations that the plant suffered only “two brief and small disputes” several days earlier. “There has been no workplace stoppage in that facility or any other Foxconn facility,” it declared in a press release, “and production has continued on schedule.”
But something clearly happened. According to Reuters, China’s official Xinhua news agency quoted a government spokesman in Zhengzhou as saying some 100 Foxconn quality inspectors refused to work for an hour on Friday after one was allegedly beaten by workers irate over the inspection demands.
The “multiple complaints from customers” is news to us, but the fact that the official Chinese news agency supports China Labor Watch’s (CLW) account of a Friday labor stoppage lends a bit more credence to their side of the story. CLW’s version also has the benefit of offering a lot more detail than Hon Hai’s.
According to CLW:
As we say, the truth of what happened probably lies somewhere between the two accounts. It sounds like Apple was trying to produce iPhone 5s fast enough to meet demand without compromising its exacting quality standards, which can’t be easy.
But the fact that there was any organized labor activity on Foxconn’s iPhone assembly line suggests that deeper forces are at play. The days that electronics manufacturers from industrialized countries — not just Apple AAPL , but Microsoft MSFT , Hewlett Packard HPQ , DELL DELL , Amazon AMZN , Sony SNE and even Samsung — can count on boundless supplies of cheap, compliant Asian factory workers may be numbered.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, this may not be the end, or even the beginning of the end, but it may, perhaps, be the end of the beginning.