Strikes Spread Ahead Of Festival

Migrant workers protest a lack of bonuses as the Chinese new year approaches.
2012-01-17
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Workers strike at the Snow Brewery factory in Dalian in an undated photo.
Workers strike at the Snow Brewery factory in Dalian in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Worker Wong

Huge pressure on millions of migrant factory workers in coastal boomtowns across southern China to return home for a family-centered festival sparked strikes and protests this week ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday.

Thousands of workers at the Japan-invested Foster Electrical factory in the southwestern province of Guangxi downed tools on Monday in protest at the lack of an end-of-year bonus in the lead up to the festive season, workers said via microblogging services.

"They haven't given out the bonuses yet," said a Nanning-based Foster worker. "They have announced that they will, though."

He said the announcement had been enough to persuade the workers to end the strike, and return to work on Tuesday.

An employee who answered the phone at the Nanning municipal government offices declined to comment on the incident. "You will have to speak to the technology park," he said. "We would only know about it if the park decided they couldn't handle it alone and reported it to us."

"We haven't had a report yet."

Calls to the park's management office went unanswered during working hours on Tuesday. However, an employee in the factory's personnel department denied that any strike had taken place.

"No, there wasn't," the employee said, before adding, "It's not convenient for us to talk about these things with you ... Sorry."

Reluctance on the part of factories to hand out the traditional year-end bonuses has sparked a number of labor disputes in the run-up to the Lunar New Year holiday, which sees the largest mass migration on the planet as hundreds of millions of people are projected to travel home for the traditional family reunion dinner on Sunday evening.

Guangxi-based political activist Mo Jufeng said the strikes were largely due to a lack of effective unions that operate independent of the ruling Communist Party and are able to bargain collectively on behalf of their members.

"China's union isn't independent, but is controlled by the government," Mo said, in a reference to the Party-backed All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) "So it isn't any use at all."

"If, as in other developed countries, the unions were independent, then they would be able to represent workers' interests ... and sort out issues with management very easily," he said.

Sanyo strike

The Nanning strike comes just days after a similar protest at a Japanese-invested Sanyo plant in the southern city of Shenzhen, where at least 3,000 workers walked out on Saturday, sparking clashes with police.

Workers there were quoted as saying they feared they would not receive any compensation after Sanyo and Panasonic integrated their businesses this month.

Liu Kaiming, head of the Shenzhen Institute for Contemporary Social Research, said the number of strikes and protests among migrant workers appeared to have grown this year in the wake of falling demand in China's traditional overseas markets.

"Companies like the Nanning factory and ... others were doing all right in terms of business in the past," Liu said. "But lately, we have seen a large decrease in export orders."

"It's quite grim," he added.

Elsewhere in Shenzhen, workers blocked a major road in protest at the lack of rail tickets for sale, a perennial problem on China's overcrowded railways.

A Shenzhen-based factory owner surnamed Chen said workers had no time to queue at the stations for tickets, but were reduced to telephoning ticket sales lines as they worked their shift.

"They are telling me that they can't get tickets, not even on the phone lines," he said. "It's a real problem. They call the ticket line while they work, but they can't get connected, and when they do get connected, the tickets are all sold out."

"Some people went to line up to buy tickets [at the station] and they queued for six days and six nights and they still didn't manage to buy a ticket," he said.

Reported by Qiao Long and Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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