CHINESE WORKERS GET LITTLE JOY FROM PROTESTS


2003.11.11
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Strikes, demonstrations are often triggered by official corruption

Disgruntled Chinese workers who stage strikes and demonstrations in major Chinese cities say their problems carry little weight with large companies and government officials who frequently support them, recent investigative reporting by RFA's Mandarin service has found.

Breakneck economic growth and rapid reform of China's socialist economy have led to bewildering social change and rampant official corruption in recent years. The result is clearly visible in cities across the country, as ordinary people increasingly take their grievances to the streets.

"On Sundays when you ride in a bus or go for a walk, you can see groups of demonstrators with banners," dissident Fu Shen told RFA's Mandarin service following a protest by self-employed business owners at a shopping center in Xi'an, capital of the northern province of Shaanxi.

"They are protesting against officials colluding with businessmen or about other issues. The government usually turns a deaf ear to such protests, or it orders the policemen to disperse the protesters by force," Fu said, adding that the protesters could tell stories "written in blood and tears".

In late October, around 500 self-employed workers at the Duocai Shopping Center, in Xi'an's Xincheng district, marched to the municipal government last month over funds which they say were unreasonably collected from leaseholders at the center and used for illicit purposes.

"We'll be happy with a solution that returns the unreasonably collected money to us," one businessman told RFA. "If not, the municipal government must be siding with the company, and we'll have to take the case to the provincial government. We're even ready to appeal to Beijing."

Earlier in October, the city government had already faced public protests from three separate groups on a single day, a Hong Kong-based human rights group said, including disabled pedicab drivers, workers protesting company corruption, and residents threatened with the demolition of their homes.

A municipal official said the dispute had been resolved but said she had seen no demonstration.

Meanwhile, in the western city of Chengdu, workers at the People's Shopping Center went on strike in protest at company officials, whom they said had withdrawn severance pay owed to staff for years of service.

"They want to use the money for investment," one worker at the center told RFA's Han Dongfang. "But if they mess up the investment, there won't be anything left for us."

She said the company had carried out dealings involving dubious valuations of corporate assets, and changed the ownership structure of the company. "They don�t allow us to become shareholders, nor will they pay us interest for our money," she said. "There are more than 5,000 workers at the center�no one is happy."

Local media organizations were aware of the strike, a journalist at the Chengdu Daily newspaper said, but none reported it. "[Strikes] are widespread, but here in Chengdu the climate is not favorable to the media and public opinion," the journalist said, who declined to give his name. "By the rules of the municipal government we couldn't report it."

Another worker at the center said the workers had little hope of winning a lawsuit against the company, which had government backing. "It is the government that makes laws. How could you defeat the government in a lawsuit? We wouldn't have a chance of winning," he said.

His views were echoed by a woman colleague. "No one dares to sue the government," she said. "It can shut out the heavens with one single hand." #####

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