Netizens on Wednesday rallied in support of striking workers at a top Chinese automaker in the southwestern province of Yunnan, as news of the strike made its way onto the country's popular microblogging services.
As many as 3,000 workers staged several days of strikes this week at the FAW-GM Hongta Automobile Factory in Yunnan's Qujing city, calling for a top-level probe into alleged graft by senior management, striking workers said.
Workers contacted by RFA seemed reluctant to speak openly about the strike, but confirmed online reports.
"It's pretty much the way it was reported online," a Hongta worker who declined to be named said on Tuesday. But she hung up, saying it was "inconvenient" for her to say more.
An employee who answered the phone at the factory on Tuesday said local officials had promised to meet most of the workers' demands and that "production had basically resumed."
"It was just the monthly salary that they didn't agree too," he said. "They treat the workers without pity; the salaries are too low."
An employee who answered the phone at a cafe near the factory gates said that some workers had continued to protest outside on Tuesday, however.
"They have blocked the road entirely, and no traffic can get through," he said. "We don't know the reason, just that they've blocked the road."
User @BA68 wrote: "The entire workforce of the First Auto Hongta factory have been out on strike since May 4 in protest at a number of actions of senior management."
"The incident was sparked by a decision to change the workers' dormitories from the old block to a new building to take advantage of a property deal," the post said.
An employee who answered the phone at the Hongta factory didn't deny the action had taken place, but declined to give details.
"It is being dealt with by the relevant work units," she said. "Less senior people like us don't really know what is going on."
An official who answered the phone at the Qujing municipal government said he was unable to answer questions.
"I am out of town on business at the moment and I don't understand the situation," he said.
Call for investigation
Microbloggers retweeted a news report on Wednesday detailing workers' demands for collective bargaining and for an investigation into alleged "serious" corruption at the state-owned plant.
"The workers are oppressed," commented user @tianfadaoadaofaziran on the Sina Weibo microblogging service on Wednesday. "China doesn't have a working class any more! I have very little hope [for them]."
User @taishigongshuo added: "The workers are united! Standing by the constitution is our only hope left to workers in state-owned enterprises ... The final axe is about to fall."
Other users added briefer comments, remarking only "I support this," or "I am concerned."
Netizens also circulated video and photographs of large numbers of people standing and sitting with umbrellas outside the factory gates, talking to a group of officials in uniform.
Striking workers began their action out of growing anger at falling benefits and allegations that factory bosses were siphoning off money from the company for other purposes, online reports said.
The biggest demonstration outside the Hongta factory gates took place on Monday, with more than 3,000 workers blocking a major intersection nearby, according to microblog posts and local residents.
Surge in strikes
Photos uploaded to the Internet showed protesters blocking a road and carrying banners calling for the immediate removal of factory bosses Wang Yanjun and Wang Yuexing, and for an immediate disciplinary probe into their actions while at the company.
FAW Group, one of China's first car manufacturers and famous for producing the Red Flag limousine, is a state-owned enterprise with subsidiaries listed in Shenzhen and Shanghai.
China saw a surge in strike action in factories last month, according to the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin (CLB).
"The focus of labour activism returned to the factory floor in April, particularly in those factories that were planning to downsize or relocate," the group said in a news story on its website.
CLB said it had recorded a total of 30 strikes in April, and that strikes in the manufacturing sector had risen by 17 percent from March to 20 cases in April, mainly triggered by workers’ demands for pay increases.
"Factory mergers or relocation plans triggered seven strikes, with workers protesting inadequate redundancy packages," it said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.