Chinese workers defend right to work


Chinese workers defend right to work

By Eva Cheng

Seven Hong Kong-based organisations have called for international solidarity with the estimated 100,000 workers in Mianyang, in the Chinese province of Sichuan, who protested for days in July to defend their right to work but were violently suppressed by police.

Chinese officials claimed that only nine protesters were arrested, but the New York-based Human Rights in China believe that up to 80 were locked up.

The Hong Kong groups said many were beaten, and the police stopped medical personnel from attending the wounded. A curfew was imposed and, in a bid to intimidate, the authorities condemned the workers' action as a "riot" backed by foreign forces.

A week later, more than 500 workers in Chengdu, Sichuan's provincial capital, 110 kilometres away, braved a renewed crackdown when they blocked a main road.

They were demanding a decent redundancy payment if Chengdu Shoe Factory, rumoured to be bankrupt, closed down. An official had indicated earlier that workers would probably be paid 50 yuan (US$5.90) for each year of service. The official minimum living expenses in Chengdu are 120 yuan a month.

In March more than 20,000 workers demonstrated in Namchung, also in Sichuan, to demand payment of wage arrears. A few workers were subsequently arrested. In June, 12 workers were arrested for organising a Chengdu protest against unemployment and massive lay-offs.

The Mianyang protesters came from three state-owned silk and textile enterprises which suddenly went bankrupt. They demanded proper redress but were ignored. They also demanded an end to government corruption, which they blame for whittling away their unemployment fund.

The Hong Kong groups — APEC Labour Rights Monitor, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee, Neighbourhood and Workers' Service Centre, April Fifth Action, Don't Forget June 4th and Asia Monitor Resource Centre — are demanding: the release of all arrested workers and compensation for the wounded; the payment of unemployment benefits and negotiation with the workers for other solutions; an immediate halt to the suppression of workers; the bringing to justice of officials responsible for the crackdown; and repeal of regulations that restrict the freedom of activity of independent trade unions.