Massive workers' struggles in China: Update - March 22, 2002

Ho Jun-bo sends us this update on the situation in China. The massive protests of the oil and steel workers are continuing in the face of provocation by the state. The state claims it has arrested six leaders, and is enforcing a media blackout.

Redundant Liaoyang city steel, textile workers and poor farmers continue dispute despite crackdown

Daqing, Shengli, Liaohe, Xinjiang, Qinghai oil workers continue their struggle unabated

"The very small number of organisers broke the law by instigating trouble and collaborating with overseas media." (State-controlled media statement)

Liaoyang Demonstrations

Reports from the mainland are now becoming few and far between as events unfold in now this fourth week of protest in north-east China and the press crackdown becomes enforced. The foreign journalists appear to be having increased difficulty accessing the area.

This is expected and the press clampdown has been officially in place from the outset of the movement some several years ago! But especially as against the current dispute that began some three to four weeks ago and is now intensifying.

Photographs are seeping out as well as current and verified news. The significance of the media reports worldwide is that these journalists either participate with eyewitness accounts or verify their sources. The evidence of the scale and the scope of the movement has been clear for the last week or so.

The current enforcement of arrests in Liaoyang together with the crackdown on the media has become worrying. The latest reports of 1,000 marchers, many elderly, demanding the release of the now six workers' leaders of Liaoyang Ferroalloy Factory that have been arrested may look like a weakening of the tide and may be viewed as an opportunity by the regime. But that the police have not moved against this demonstration and no further arrests have been attempted - despite full warnings - and that the nature of the marchers themselves, being family as well as the elderly, indicates that:

  1. Regroupment is taking place; the state is monitoring developments and looking for an opportunity to either dissipate the movement or to use military force.
  2. The state is hoping that the arrest of 6 of the reported dozen "strike" leaders will be enough to dissipate the movement.
  3. The state may well concede to payment of wages arrears, pensions, etc, and engage in dialogue whilst reserving the use of force.
  4. The size of the sympathy and general support is still very large and probably growing.
  5. The state dare not yet move.

The Arrested Workers' Leaders:

  • Yao Fuxin
  • Xiao Yunliang
  • Pang Qingxiang
  • Wang Zhaoming
  • Guo Suxiang (wife of Pang Qingxiang)
  • Unidentified Young Worker (who heroically intervened in the arrest of 56-year old Guo Suxiang - we presume that he is family, either the son of Guo or her son in law)

Demonstrations are continuing despite the midwinter conditions, the arrest of the leadership and further warnings by the state of arrest and crackdown.

Yao Da, daughter of Yao Fuxin stated whilst marching and in response to the threats and arrest of her father: "We may be arrested, but we are not afraid."

In the oil sector and Daqing in particular the workers are still out in force with no sign of the movement abating.

The state for the moment is still standing aside whilst they hope the movement will dissipate. Every sign is that the movement is far from abating. Whilst the so called new policy of the state in standing aside has been put down to a softening of the policy of the state it is far from the case. The sheer size of the movements of 50,000 workers has quite simply meant that the state cannot move against them without fear of a massive showdown.

Our perspective is that if the leadership, especially in Daqing, fail to generalise the movement further and consolidate its ranks it may very well dissipate for now. At such a moment the state will move against the workers. If however, as looks likely, the movement continues to be generalised and further fronts are opened, the basis of the largest social movement of the working class and farmers of China will be found.

In the current period with an evident crackdown on news reporting it is easy to forget the scale of the movement. So far the major cities and areas that have been seen industrial protests are:

  • Daqing - Heilongjiang Province (North-East) 50,000 workers (Oil)
  • Liaoyang - Liaoning Province (North-East) 30,000 workers (steel, textiles, farmers)
  • Liaohe - Liaoning Province (North-East) unknown (oil)
  • Shengli - Shandong Province (North) unknown (oil)
  • Changzhou City - Hebei Province (North) unknown (oil)
  • Korla - Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (West) unknown (oil)
  • Qinghai Province (Central) unknown (oil)

Already spokesmen are warning of a massive fallout over Beijing's privatisation policies as lay-offs are slowed down out of fear of reaction by the workers and at a time when the social security scheme for these redundant workers is now Rmb 4 billion in deficit.