Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong detained four people after around 1,000 workers at a local clothing factory took to the streets in protest on Friday, beating drums and holding banners calling for the return of two months' missed paychecks.
Workers at the Houhong Garment Factory in the manufacturing city of Dongguan staged the walkout to coincide with International Workers' Day, a striking worker surnamed Fang told RFA.
"The police, security guards and riot police are all here, holding their shields, and wearing bullet-proof vests, and they have police dogs," Fang said. "It's really over the top."
"They are all lined up and they won't let us advance any further."
She said the four people detained by police during the stand-off weren't even the strike leaders.
"They just detained anyone who was yelling louder than the rest, or they didn't like the look of," Fang said. "They even detained women, six or seven of them lifting them, big tough guys."
Fang said she and the other workers are owed two months' back pay, the first time management has failed to pay workers on time since she began working for Houhong 10 years ago.
"At first they said they'd hand out food in lieu of wages, but now they haven't even done that, and we don't know what's happening," Fang said.
An employee who answered the phone at the Houhong Garment Factory on Friday confirmed that around 1,000 people -- the majority of the workforce -- had joined the march.
"There were probably about 1,000 workers there, and a few hundreds have already been on the march in recent days," he said.
Asked what prompted the protest, he replied: "According to our understanding, the factory has gone bust and the boss has absconded."
He said the protest was peaceful and orderly.
"They didn't chant slogans but they beat drums and held up banners," the employee said. "The police stayed with them, but they didn't stop them marching."
An officer who answered the phone at the nearby Dongjiang police station declined to comment on the number of people detained.
"I don't really know about that," the officer said.
An employee who answered the phone at government offices in nearby Qiaotou township said local leaders were holding a meeting on Friday, in spite of the public holiday.
"They were in the meeting for a very long time, even into the evening," he said. "It was probably about the incident at the garment factory."
Chen Mao, founder of the Shenzhen-based Migrant Workers' Center, said a number of factories in the Pearl River delta region are in financial difficulties, citing previous cases in which factory bosses have extracted any remaining cash from the business before it went bankrupt and disappeared, leaving workers unpaid.
He said that workers left in the lurch by bosses should have access to government compensation.
"There's a basic system set up now, so that workers have some sort of fallback if money starts disappearing during the day-to-day running of operations," Chen said.
"There is a fund set aside to protect workers whose boss has disappeared," he said.
He said disappearing bosses are becoming more and more common, and called for better government supervision of factories that are potentially in financial trouble.
As of Friday, the online Strike Map of the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin (CLB) had recorded 838 strike incidents in China since Jan. 1.
Of those, 110 were recorded in Guangdong, and the majority of them were sparked by wage arrears, the map showed.
Last year, the number of strikes more than doubled to 1,378 from 656 the year before, CLB said in an earlier report.
Reported by Wong Lok-to for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.