WASHINGTON, Dec.27--A leader of massive worker protests that rocked China's northeastern industrial city of Liaoyang this year says he still believes workers were within their rights to demand back pay from their bankrupt employer, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reports. Wang Zhaoming, released pending trial, also called for support from workers in other countries.
"We did what we did only in order to survive. We demanded only the pay owed us. We did not engage in any other activities," Wang told RFA's Mandarin service in a telephone interview. "According to the law of our land, before an enterprise goes bankrupt it must pay its workers first. What they did--announcing bankruptcy before paying us--was illegal. That's why we aired our grievances en masse."
Wang was among four workers in Liaoyang arrested for organizing huge demonstrations there in March, briefly paralyzing the city. The protesters claimed that their employer, the bankrupt Tiehejin metals-processing factory, had robbed them of severance pay to which they were entitled when the factory failed. The protests, which drew tens of thousands of people, touched a nerve among Chinese authorities, who fear a major backlash by workers angered by efforts to transform loss-making state-owned enterprises.
Another organizer, Pang Qingxiang, was also paroled pending trial, while two others, Xiao Yunliang and Yao Fuxin, remain in custody.
Wang was freed Dec. 20 after nine months' detention and expects to stand trial after the Feb. 1 Lunar New Year holiday. He spoke to RFA host Han Dongfang despite a warning from officials that he shouldn't discuss his case publicly.
"What we did was not against the interests of the people. To this day, I do not think what we did was wrong. We demanded what was owed us--our wages, which we had earned with our blood and sweat. You cannot say the government is totally unaccountable. We are curious as to the outcome of the trial," he said. "I hope workers of the world will not forget us. I hope they can give us a hand, and I am not talking about money here."
Wang said he was warned to remain in the city of Liaoyang, unless he obtains prior travel authorization from authorities. He said he was permitted to hire a lawyer to contest the unspecified charges against him but added that he cannot afford to pay legal fees. Police have yet to show him the specific indictment against him.
"We do not regret what we did. What we did was for a just cause. Our demand for back pay was reasonable and within the law� We had tried negotiating with the government many times, but the problem remained unresolved. We were forced to take to the streets," he said. Asked if he risked further trouble by agreeing to an interview, he replied: "I am already in a lot of trouble."
RFA broadcasts news and information to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia. Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo, and Kham), and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content. ##### Contact: Sarah Jackson-Han 202 530 7774