THE BIGGEST workers' protest for several years shook China several weeks ago, according to reports that are only just emerging from the country. Some 20,000 miners rioted and attacked government buildings in the city of Yangjiazhani, in the north east of the country, in protest at mass sackings. The protest appears to have gone on for several days. It was only finally ended when government troops imposed martial law at gunpoint.
The Chinese government has kept the protest secret until now, and it could just be one example of what seems to be simmering discontent across the country. China's rulers are pushing through mass sackings in industries as part of their plan to enter the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The entry of China into the WTO would mark a further opening of the economy to the world market. The World Bank estimated that some 35 percent of China's 140 million industrial workers face the sack as their industries cannot compete with foreign rivals allowed access to the economy. There have been persistent reports of demonstrations and strikes across the country as the number being thrown out of work rises. The incidents in Yangjiazhani give a glimpse of why China's rulers are terrified of the potentially explosive impact of the surge in unemployment.
The local molybdenum mine was declared bankrupt, threatening devastation on a town totally dependent on the mine for employment. Anger among the population turned to fury when workers were offered a derisory redundancy package, with no welfare benefits and no prospect of other work. Some 20,000 miners and families occupied the city's main road, clashed with police and attacked government buildings. The army moved in to finally quell the protest. Troops have remained in the city since. The eruption of struggle could be a sign of further unrest in the coming months as the jobs toll rises.