Steel, Beer Workers Strike

Strikes at two Chinese factories bring production to a halt as employees seek higher wages.

2012.01.06
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dalian_beer_strike-305.jpg Workers strike at the Snow Brewery factory in Dalian in an undated photo.
Photo courtesy of Worker Wong

Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan sent in hundreds of police to clear away thousands of striking steel-workers outside a state-run factory, as their strike for more pay entered its third day on Friday.

Management at Chengdu's Pangang Steel met with labor representatives at lunchtime, offering them a raise of 300 yuan a month, although workers had demanded an increase of 500 yuan (U.S. $78) a month.

Pangang Steel workers, who sometimes fulfill orders for China's military, typically make around 1,500 yuan (U.S. $237) per month, but were calling for a raise to 2,000 yuan (U.S. $315), rights activists said this week.

Pu Fei, a spokesman for the Sichuan-based Tianwang rights group, said some workers had sent out text messages on Friday evening saying that management were willing to continue negotiations with workers, but that strikers had so far rejected their offers.

Pangang Steel had itself sent out text messages to workers calling on them to return to work, and local authorities had deployed around 1,000 police to the scene on Friday, Pu said.

"The workers continued their reasonable defense of their rights today," Pu said. "The police sent in anti-riot squads to supervise the area."

"Right now, management is offering a very small concession, a raise of just 260 yuan a month. The workers think [this] isn't very large."

"I have heard that more than 1,000 police and riot police have arrived at the scene now."

Tense face-off

A Chengdu resident surnamed Chen said he had tried to drive past the Pangang plant on Friday. "The traffic police had cordoned off the area and the road by the factory gates," he said. "They had sealed off all three intersections, and they were all watched by police."

"They were only letting people out, but they weren't letting them in," Chen said.

He said "thousands" of striking workers were holding up banners that read, "I want a raise," and that they had marched from the factory gates as far as a nearby expressway.

After a face-off lasting several hours, police had moved in to clear the crowds, sparking clashes, he added.

Pu said the strike had been conducted in an orderly manner from the workers' side.

"The workers have been pushing for their legal rights, and they made no acts of aggression towards the police," Pu said.

"There were some police employees who perpetrated malicious revenge, pouring oil on the flames," he added. "They are still at the scene, deliberately causing clashes."

Activists said on Thursday that many people in Sichuan had been spurred on by the concessions won by rebel villagers in the Guangdong village of Wukan last month, following armed clashes over barricades between local residents angry at official corruption and armed police.

Tapped out

Meanwhile, beer-factory workers in the northeastern port city of Dalian also walked out this week in a bid for higher wages, bringing production to a halt.

Workers from the Belgian-owned Snow Brewery, packaging plant, and warehouse operations had all joined in the strike, according to a worker surnamed Huang.

The company was bought last year by Belgium-based Anheuser Busch InBev.

"That's right, [no one is working,]" Huang said. "It's all because the management is unreasonable, or they wouldn't go on strike."

"All the trucks have stopped going out, so they can't deliver any orders," he said.

An employee who answered the phone at the company headquarters said management was still waiting for clear instructions from the parent company regarding the details of employee benefits under the new ownership.

"Our company was sold in March," the employee said. Asked if the strike was about pay and benefits, she replied: "That's right. All I can say is that the stuff that's being reported on the Internet about this is true."

"Right now, the workforce is really in need of help."

Repeated calls to management-level offices went unanswered during office hours on Friday.

An official who answered the phone at the Dalian municipal government complaints office said local officials were already dealing with the matter.

"The relevant government departments are dealing with this," the official said. "I don't know the details."

"The government is very concerned about the people's welfare now this incident has happened, so they will definitely deal with this."

Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see and Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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