Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong on Friday detained some 50 Maoist activists who had gathered in Shenzhen to support workers at a local factory in their campaign for an independent union.
Police in full riot gear burst into the rented apartment where the activists were living early on Friday, detaining them, the Hong Kong-based labor rights group SACOM said via its Twitter account.
Video footage from the scene of the raid showed several officers wearing helmets, body armor and carrying riot shields force open the door and push into the apartment, scuffling with young people as they did so.
“At 5 a.m. this morning, more than 50 workers and students from the #Jasic Workers Solidarity Support [group] were taken away by the police in a raid,” the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions said via its Twitter account.
“[Their] whereabouts are still not known,” it said.
The activists had been supporting workers fired, beaten and detained after they tried to set up an independent trade union at the Jasic Technology factory in Shenzhen.
The Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin (CLB) quoted sources familiar with the incident as saying that those detained included student activists Yue Xin, Zhan Zhenzhen and Feng Ge from China’s prestigious Peking University.
A number of unnamed students from Beijing’s Renmin University and Nanjing University in the eastern province of Jiangsu were also among those held, the group said in a news report on its website.
Jasic workers Lan Zhiwei, Yu Kailong, and Yu Weiye, who were out on bail after a previous mass detention by police, were redetained, CLB said.
Two workers’ representatives and a student supporter, Gu Jiayue, who had advocated for the workers with the government-backed All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) and All-China Women's Federation about the workers’ struggle were also incommunicado, it said.
It said the students were part of a growing informal coalition of labor activists, leftist and Maoist groups in China and labor groups overseas who had supported the Jasic workers’ cause.
Protesters said last week that social media accounts and chat groups used to organize the protests are now being shut down by government censors.
Former employee taken away
Earlier this month, Shen Mengyu, a Maoist labor activist and former Jasic employee, was taken away by unidentified personnel after she led the campaign for a union to negotiate collectively on behalf of some 1,000 Jasic workers that led to the detention of dozens of workers in the local Pingshan district police station.
Her detention on Aug. 11 came after she led protests outside Shenzhen’s Pingshan police station to call for the release of workers held there after an earlier mass detention. Some workers were later released on bail, but it was unclear how many remained in custody on Friday.
A number of Maoists, who are critical of growing inequality from within the leftist wing of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), joined the Jasic workers’ cause, some of them taking jobs at the factory.
On Aug. 19, Yue Xin had published an open letter to the ruling party's Central Committee and President Xi Jinping, calling on the central government to intervene to deal with local vested interests in the dispute.
Activists say that Jia Lei, owner of the Jasic factory, and personnel manager Guo Liqun are both delegates to the Shenzhen People's Congress, a rubber-stamp body entirely controlled by the CCP.
They are calling on local party secretary Tao Yongxin, the Pingshan district government and the regional branch of the ACFTU to step in to support unionization at the factory.
A number of prominent leftists, including Zhang Qinde of the former Central Policy Research Office and Fan Jinggang the now-shuttered Utopia Maoist website, have issued calls from within the ranks of party leadership to treat the Jasic standoff as a "serious political incident."
CLD deputy director Cai Chongguo said the Jasic dispute isn't the first of its kind in China, but the involvement of young, highly educated Maoist activists has made political waves in the ruling party.
"The younger generation of leftists are becoming openly involved in the workers' movement, and stand in open opposition to the police," Cai told RFA. "They are also backed up by the older generation of leftists and Maoists."
"This has shaken the ideological basis and the legitimacy of the current regime, and it continues to be shaken by it," he said.
He said the workers' movement comes amid growing public anger among the poorest in China over a quickly expanding wealth gap and the power of the financial and political elite, all of which lend a new momentum to the leftist movement.
"Maoists have gotten involved in labor disputes at state-owned enterprises in major cities before, and some of them were even detained," Cai said.
But he said an influx of younger activists had taken the Jasic dispute onto social media, and changed the way such protests are organized.
According to Cai, the leftist faction has considerable support within the ruling party's own ranks, within the People's Liberation Army (PLA), and among government officials, and has great potential for mass mobilization.
U.S.-based political commentator Chen Pokong agreed, saying that the left's bid to return to the basics of communist ideology could pose a threat to the administration of Xi Jinping.
"The Communist Party claims to promote the ideology of the far left, but in reality, it acts like the extreme right — the Nazis," Chen told RFA. "That is the whole reason the Maoist left exists in the first place."
"So they are embarrassing to the Xi administration, and they are even more of a threat," he said.
The government has shut down a number of Maoist websites in recent years, including Utopia, but has previously allowed them to reopen after politically sensitive events.
The Jasic protests have also inspired solidarity among labor groups across the internal immigration border in the former British colony of Hong Kong, who have protested outside Beijing's Central Liaison Office for the release of detained Jasic workers.
The detention of workers came on July 27 as they protested the dismissal by factory management of those involved in a bid to set up a union through legal channels.
Seven workers said they had been beaten up by police for their involvement in the campaign to found a union, which began on July 18.
More than 40 years after his death at the age of 82, late supreme leader Mao Zedong still presents a political dilemma to the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
While revering Mao as the leader who founded the People's Republic on Oct. 1, 1949, the party has been forced to conclude publicly that the leader made some "serious political mistakes."
Locally funded statues of Mao have been torn down in recent years, reflecting official concerns over the potential use of the Great Helmsman's image as a focus for millions of poor and dispossessed people in China, including the country's army of petitioners, many of whom have lost their land or homes to government-backed development.
Reported by Shi Shan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.