China: Workers' centre smashed

Issue 

On November 20, two unidentified thugs use butchers' cleavers to brutally attack Huang Qingnan, an organiser of the Dagongzhe Centre in the south China foreign capital haven of Shenzhen, leaving him seriously injured. The assault came on the heels of the October 11 and November 14 attempts to
ransack the workers' centre by an unidentified gang, leaving behind extensive property damage.

In a November 25 statement, five labour support groups based in Hong Kong expressed shock and outrage at the attacks, which they believed were clear acts of intimidation. They demanded the local authorities investigate the incidents, bring those responsible to justice, and assist in Huang's medical treatment and rehabilitation.

The statement explained: "According to workers from Longgang District [where the centre is located], [the nearby] Baoan District and Dongguan City, workers are being beaten or verbally threatened when they try to claim their wages. Workers are disappointed by the local government bodies' indifference and inability [to help them assert their rights]. The case at DGZ Centre is not an individual random case, but a clear signal from the 'interest groups' that they would resist the national law, even by using violence. It is indeed a social problem. DGZ Centre wants the Shenzhen city government to play a more active role in safeguarding their safety and
investigate the case seriously, in order to capture the attackers and the 'interest groups' behind the attacks."

The statement also detailed Huang's injuries: "His back, waist, left leg were chopped and left him wounds more than 10 centimetres long. His left leg has the worst cuts. His muscle, bones, blood vessels, and nerves were cut apart, with only a bit of flesh and skin connecting the parts. He stayed in the intensive care unit until being transferred to orthopaedic ward, it is not yet clear if he could ever recover. Huang had a serious industrial accident in the past and his body was badly burned, leaving him [unable to stretch] many parts of his muscle normally, which would make the upcoming treatment very difficult."

The five groups are Workers' Empowerment, Labour Action China, Asia Monitor Resources Centre, Globalisation Monitor, and Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour.

The Dagongzhe Centre was set up four years ago by labour activists and sympathisers in China and Hong Kong, with a focus on improve workers' awareness of their rights through a free library and educational classes, in addition to free legal service on work-related issues.

A lot of those who sought help from Dagongzhe were migrant workers. There is a high concentration of migrant workers from all over China in the Pearl River Delta region where the Dagongzhe Centre is, and migrant workers are among the most
exploited, with their legal rights — however meagre — often ignored. Wages in arrears is particularly rampant among migrant workers.

China's new labour contract law, to take effect on January 1, 2008, is designed to improve workers' rights and conditions, but there are signs that local bosses and authorities are seeking to boycott and circumvent it.