Protesters Sing Red Songs

A group of laid-off workers use former political songs to evoke the ideals of China's socialist beginnings.

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Mao Chongqing 305 A statue of Mao Zedong in Chongqing, October 2008.

Hundreds of laid-off workers in the southwestern Chinese city of Chongqing sang revolutionary anthems from the era of former Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong outside the gates of a major grain corporation on Tuesday, calling for better provision for their retirement.

Amid a heavy police presence, protesters sang "red" songs and chanted slogans calling for a better compensation package than the one they received from former employer Chongqing Grain Group 10 years ago.

"Last time the municipal government came out to us and said they would resolve this issue for us," said laid-off worker Liang Mingyuan from the scene of the protest.

"But it has been three months since then, and they still haven't given us a clear answer," he said.

"Yesterday, more than 100 workers showed up, and dozens of them had banners. The police snatched them away," Liang said.

"Everyone was singing revolutionary songs and chanting slogans."

"Last time [the managing director] of the Chongqing Grain Group got some criminal gang members to come and beat us up," Liang said.

"There are a lot of security guards here, maybe 15 or 20 at the gates watching us."

Pension problem

A laid-off worker surnamed Zheng said more people had showed up to protest on Tuesday.

"There are more than 200 people here today, but we still haven't had a response."

"The workers are outside the gates of the Chongqing Grain Group singing red songs."

An employee who answered the phone at the Chongqing Grain Group confirmed the protesters were there.

"I saw them," he said. "It's because they went to the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Council, but they haven't resolved their complaint, so they have come here to our company headquarters."

"Theirs is a problem left over from history, but I can't answer you about the concrete details. I heard that the problem was to do with pensions, but I don't really know."

Insufficient compensation

The workers are complaining that they received insufficient compensation under a mandatory lay-off scheme in 2001, which brought them just 10,000 yuan (U.S. $1,500) for 20-30 years of service.

Earlier this year, Chongqing Grain announced plans to invest U.S. $2.47 billion in a soybean processing facility in Brazil.

"Hu Junlie is the managing director of Chongqing Grain, and now he plans to invest ... in Brazil," Liang said.

"We see this as absconding with the money," he said. "They have bled the workers dry, and now they want to take all the profits overseas."

Protesters say the company, which has total assets of 4.77 billion yuan (U.S. $726 million), has also made billions from the development of its downtown warehouse properties in Chongqing, and from trading in edible oils.

The petitioners' use of revolutionary anthems from the Mao era comes after officials in the southwestern city of Chongqing organized a series of "red song" concerts to strengthen social cohesion.

Television stations have also been ordered to run historical dramas lauding the ruling Communist Party ahead of its 90th anniversary on July 1.

But anthems like "Chairman Mao is the Reddest Sun in All Our Hearts," and "Without the Communist Party, There Would be No New China," are often used by petitioners to complain about their treatment at the hands of officials, and to hark back to the socialist ideals of the early days of the Party.

Reported by Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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Jul 13, 2011 03:08 AM

We should not assume that all or even most of the disgruntled Chinese workers who were singing the red songs actually believe that Mao Zedong's rule was just. By singing those songs, the workers are seeking to protect themselves from charges that they are "anti-Party" or "anti-government"; this behavior reduces the likelihood of being cracked down on by the one-party police state.

Jun 23, 2011 07:14 AM

It's great Chinese workers are protesting but they're faith in communism or Maoism is misplaced. Mao never truly believed in communism, he just saw the revolution as a means to seize power & be absolute dictator. He didn't really believe in socialist ideals. The Cultural Revolution wasn't about reforming Chinese culture but merely a political ploy to weed out Mao's enemies in the CCP. Mao was in it for himself, never for China or the Chinese people. If Mao were alive today, he would've ordered the PLA to shoot these protestors.