Nearly 400 laid-off workers have carried out a sit-in protest at a site allotted for the construction of a long-awaited high speed railway in China’s southwestern Sichuan province, according to one of the demonstrators.
The protest, which took place in the city of Emeishan, began last Tuesday and involved mostly elderly workers requesting proper compensation for having lost their jobs.
Organizers said almost 1,800 workers were laid off after the former semi-military Factory 525 filed for bankruptcy in 2003.
When plans were announced to build a high speed railway, the group decided to block construction at the factory site and pressure the government into hearing out their demands.
One of the laid-off workers, surnamed Gao, said the protesters have resolved to carry on their struggle until their demands are met.
“About 400 elderly workers are coming to the site every day and we will not let them start the construction,” he said.
“All of us are in high spirits. We are old and fear neither jail nor death!”
Gao said government representatives had made no efforts to speak with the group.
A police officer at the station nearest to the site said by telephone that he was unaware of the situation.
“We have not yet received a report or complaint about people obstructing the high speed rail construction,” the officer said.
“But the situation at Factory 525 should be handled by the National Security Police,” he added.
China’s National Security Police are specialized to tackle group protests.
According to Gao, Factory 525 was administered by a military department known as the Ministry of Nuclear Industry. But after the factory filed for bankruptcy, the government did not provide adequate compensation to workers.
The laid-off workers claim they are owed the rights to the former factory site, but recently the local government sold the land to the developers of the high speed railway.
Gao said factory managers had committed acts of gross corruption throughout the bankruptcy process.
“For the past five years, we have petitioned the central government in Beijing and surrounded local government offices, prostrating and crying out for help. But we’ve seen no solution at all,” Gao said.
“Last year, we 1,800 laid-off workers sued the Emeishan city government. But both the Intermediate and High People’s Courts handed down verdicts against us,” he said.
“Now we have no other option but to block the construction of the high speed rail.”
Reported by Ding Xiao for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated by Ping Chen. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.