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China: Workers Demand Wages, Security

by Eva ChengGreen Left Weekly
March 3rd, 2004

Some 2000 workers and their retired counterparts from the Tieshu textile factory in Suizhou, Hubei province, staged an angry protest on February 8 denouncing the now-defunct plants management for cheating workers of savings and benefits. They also accuse management of corruption.

According to the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin, some 1200 workers blocked the local rail line that morning, joined by hundreds of others hours later. They were attacked by police, who inflicted injuries on scores of protesters. More than 20 suspected leaders were arrested over the next few days.

Daily since then, however, more than 1000 workers have congregated outside the municipal government office in solidarity with the detainees and to continue pressing for their demands.

Workers had been encouraged to take out shares in the plant in 1993 and 1997. When the plant was declared bankrupt in December 2003, these papers became worth a fraction of what they had cost. According to the CLB, workers sprang into action after being notified on February 7 that pledges made to workers by the plant's bankruptcy committee would now not be honoured.

The CLB reported that it has since been revealed that friends of management and some non-worker shareholders were forewarned of the plant's demise.

Many workers who have retired since 1999 invested their retirement savings into the plant, encouraged by management. Their security has disappeared.

In recent years, Chinas state firms have invented new categories of work -paid near-starvation subsidies instead of a wage -as a way to pump up employment figures. The Tieshu plant also used this system, which affected 4400 workers there. All subsidies have now been withdrawn.

The workers first took mass action to defend their entitlements and against suspected corruption in January and March 2003.

Hundreds of workers sued management, but lost. An appeal was also lost. Their lawyer resigned, prompting them to resume a new series of protests in September last year.

In a comparable case in Maoming, Guangdong province, 1000 retired workers of the China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation have been protesting since early January, trying to reclaim an illegal deduction to their pension. They have maintained a daily protest and blockade of the corporation's office for the past month.

The CLB also reported that during the last quarter of 2003, the workers of many of the 33 state firms that are being privatised in Zhengzhou, Henan province, have blocked local roads and staged other forms of public actions to protest against erosion of their critical entitlements.

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