Thousands of Workers in Shaanxi Protest


2004.09.27
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HONG KONG—Thousands of angry workers in the northern Chinese province of Shaanxi are staging protests at two separate factories after they were acquired by companies listed in Hong Kong and Shenzhen.

Several thousand workers at the former Xianyang No.7 Cotton Factory have staged sit-ins since Sept. 14 to protest changes in their contracts since the factory was acquired by the Hong Kong-listed China Resources group, local officials told RFA's Mandarin Service.

"Sometimes there are 1,000 people there at the gate. At other times it's a few hundred," an official at the neighborhood committee offices near the factory told RFA reporter Han Dongfang.

"They've been blocking the road for 10 days now. There are retired old ladies among the protesters, as well as workers in their 30s and 40s. One of their demands is health benefits, so that the older people can get the medical attention they need. Another is that the factory should return to production."

She said workers had organized themselves into rotating groups according to their shift patterns at the factory, but government negotiators at the scene were having a hard time finding anyone to talk to.

"They aren't electing representatives because they're afraid that something will happen to them as a result," she said. Labor activists are frequently detained and charged with subversion in China, where non-government labor unions are banned.

Meanwhile, workers from the Jingmi Metals Co. in the provincial capital Xian had blocked a major road in the area since Sept. 14 following the stripping of their factory's assets by a Shenzhen-listed company, officials said.

"They've been blocking the road for 10 days now," an official at the local neighborhood committee office told RFA.

"There are retired old ladies among the protesters, as well as workers in their 30s and 40s. One of their demands is health benefits, so that the older people can get the medical attention they need. Another is that the factory should return to production."

He said the factory had been bought as a shell by the Shenzhen-based Tianhua Group and stripped of its assets, including working capital and manufacturing equipment.

"It's not that this factory has no work coming it. It has. But there are no machines, and [there is] no working capital. People show up for work in the morning but there is nothing there," he said.

In Xianyang, officials concerned about the province's reputation among foreign investors were desperately trying to mediate between the No. 7 textile factory workers and China Resources, which has close government connections in mainland China.

China Resources had refused to honor permanent employment contracts with the company's long-serving employees after the acquisition, limiting new contracts to between one and three years regardless of length of service, officials said.

"Even though the ownership is no longer in our hands, we still take this matter very seriously," an official at the Shaanxi Provincial Textile Corp. headquarters told RFA. "The workers obviously have some problem, and we are trying to respond to that."

Top officials from the state-owned former parent company were at the scene of the strike, she said.

Local Chinese media have not yet reported the Xianyang strike.

China is struggling to deal with a wave of industrial disputes, as workers protest mass layoffs, dangerous conditions, unpaid wages and retirement benefits, and official corruption at ailing state-owned enterprises and government agencies.

Many such protests are suppressed by force, and the leaders detained.

On the Web:

Amnesty International on labor disputes in China

China Labour Bulletin on corporate social responsibility

Southern Metropolitan News on worker suicide protests

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