China’s economic growth has been uneven—leading to a widening gulf between rich and poor, and seeing labour shortages in some areas, unemployment in others. There are signs of growing unrest around the country as a result. Below are press extracts that give a glimpse of the discontent.
ABOUT 6,800 workers at China Resources are on strike for a seventh week in northern China, alleging that the company is forcing them to sign unfair labour contracts. The workers, the majority of them women, have been on strike at the Tianwang Textile Factory in the city of Xianyang after China Resources took over the factory.
About 1,000 police appeared at the factory gates with water cannons four days into the strike on 18 September. They were met by thousands of workers who surrounded them, forcing them to back down. During the weekend, the workers tried to organise a sit-down demonstration at the city’s main railroad link and disbanded after a deputy provincial governor turned up to calm the situation.
The strike is one of several in China. In Anhui province, about 10,000 textile workers and retirees recently protested decreases in pension payments, the lack of medical insurance and compensation for injuries. In northern China, about 1,000 workers at Shaanxi Precision Alloy protested a takeover.
Allen T Cheng Bloomberg News, 27 October 2004<
The workers won victory in their strike a few days later—forcing management to meet most of their demands.
THE ENCOUNTER, at first, seemed purely pedestrian. A man carrying a bag passed a husband and wife on a sidewalk. The man’s bag brushed the woman’s pant leg, leaving a trace of mud. Words were exchanged. A scuffle ensued.
Easily forgettable, except that one of the men, Yu Jikui, was a lowly porter. The other, Hu Quanzong, boasted that he was a ranking government official. Hu beat Yu using the porter’s own carrying stick, then threatened to have him killed.
For this Yangtze River port city, the script was incendiary. Onlookers spread word that a senior official had abused a helpless porter. By nightfall, tens of thousands of people had swarmed Wanzhou’s central square, where they toppled official vehicles, pummelled police officers and torched the city hall.
This uprising, which occurred on 18 October 2004, is one of nearly a dozen major incidents of spontaneous social unrest in the past three months, many sparked by government corruption, police abuse and the unequal riches accruing to the powerful and well-connected.
Police statistics show the number of public protests reached nearly 60,000 in 2003. That is an average of 160 per day.
Joseph KahnThe New York Times, 31 December 2004
IN GUANGDONG province in southern China, labour—until recently thought to be docile in nature and unlimited in supply—is either drying up or squaring up to some of the most exploitative management practices in industrial history.
In the autumn, the labour ministry reported a shortfall of two million workers in Dongguan and Shenzhen. With jobs easier to come by, workers are increasingly emboldened to take industrial action. Among the biggest of many recent strikes took place at the Haiyan Electronics factory, which makes DVD and CD players for the international market. In November, 3,000 employees blocked the streets for five hours in protest at a basic monthly salary of 230 yuan.
Nine of the organisers were arrested, but the demonstration worked—the vice-governor of Shenzhen intervened personally to fire the manager and triple salaries.
“I was very frightened. I’ve never been on a strike before. But now things are a little better,” said a woman who has spent most of the last two decades working 100-hour weeks for about 1 yuan (6p) an hour. “There has been almost no change in the past 20 years. Even now, I get the same amount of money each month, but at least I don’t have to work so hard for it.”
Jonathan Watts The Guardian, 24 December 2004
For more news and reports from China go to China Labour Bulletin www.china-labour.org.hk