China: crackdown on Guangdong labor activists

At least 20 Guangdong-based labor advocates have been detained over the past week in police sweeps. Eight are believed to remain in detention, either formally or under some kind of house arrest. Those who remain in custody include Zeng Feiyang, director of the Panyu Migrant Workers' Center in the provincial capital Guangzhou; He Xiaobo, who runs the Nanfeiyan Social Worker Center, a support group for injured workers in Foshan; and Zhu Xiaomei, a woman from the same organization who is the mother of a one-year-old baby. Also being held are Deng Xiaoming, from the Haige Workers' Services Center, and Peng Jiayong, who runs the Panyu Laborer Mutual Aid Group. Chen Huihai, also a leader of the Haige group, is believed to be under house arrest.

Some of the detainees are apparently being denied access to counsel. Zeng Feiyang was formally detained on Dec. 4 on suspicion of "gathering a crowd to disturb social order." Zeng's lawyer, Cheng Zhunqiang, attempted to visit his client at the Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Center but was barred by the police who said the Panyu District Public Security Bureau had ordered them to refuse the visit.

William Nee, Hong Kong-based representative of Amnesty International, said an "unprecedented" and "coordinated attack" on Guangdong's labor movement is underway. "This is the only time that I can remember in recent years in which many labor activists and organizations—without any kind of incident pre-empting it—have all of a sudden been taken in one fell swoop," he told The Guardian.

The Guardian also quoted an open letter issued by activists urging the Communist Party's senior leadership to end the "terrible crackdown" and release the detainees. "In Guangdong there have been cases where staff from workers’ rights groups were slashed, beaten, put under administrative or criminal detention or where these organisations were forced to move, were harassed or had their licences cancelled," the letter read. "But this is the first time in Guangdong or indeed the whole country that there has been such a severe crackdown on a such scale from the government."

In recent years, the frequent wildcat strikes in Guangdong have prompted a large number of workers to join the army of "rights defenders." Labor NGOs have emerged to assist strikers and provide legal advice in tripartite negotiations between workers, employers and governments. (China Labour Bulletin, Dec. 11; China Change, Dec. 10; The Guardian, Labor Notes, Dec. 9; China Labour Bulletin, Dec. 5; HKCTU, Dec. 4)

  1. Taxi drivers strike against Uber in China

    Thousands of taxi drivers in at least 13 Chinese cities have staged strikes and protests over excessive fees and unfair competition from ride-hailing app services since the beginning of the year. The biggest protest occurred in Nanjing, with an estimated 13,000 drivers taking part at its height. Caixin reported that the strike, which began on Jan. 8. Drivers demanded a reduction in the crippling fees extracted by local government-backed taxi companies.

    In Dongguan, around 1,000 drivers have been on strike for three days demanding that taxi companies lower rental fees and take over drivers’ insurance payments. They also called on the government to crackdown on ride hailing services such as domestically-owned Didi Kuaidi and foreign competitors like Uber. (China Labour Bulletin, Jan. 13)

  2. China: worker strikes and protests reached record levels in 2015

    The number of strikes and worker protests in China escalated dramatically towards the end of 2015, with manufacturing, construction and mining all seeing a massive upsurge in disputes. China Labour Bulletin’s Strike Map recorded 2,774 incidents for the year as a whole, double the 1,379 incidents for 2014. This increase can be accounted for partly by better data tracking but the upward trend towards the end of the year is still very clear. (CLB, Jan. 7)

  3. Guangzhou steel factory shut by wildcat strike

    Several hundred workers at Ansteel Lianzhong in Guangzhou have been on strike for six days, protesting wage cuts and moves by the company to force them to resign. The strike has now effectively closed down the factory, which has a workforce of around 2,000. In response, police have sealed off the factory gates. This morning, officers in riot gear attempted to break up a demonstration of hundreds of workers inside the factory grounds. 

    Problems at the plant started last year when state-owned  Ansteel took a controlling interest in formerly Taiwanese-owned Lianzhong Stainless Steel. The new management began to lay off staff and increase workloads. Then in December, the company started putting workers on leave at 80% of the Guangzhou statutory minimum wage.

    The final straw came Feb. 15 when the company issued an open letter announcing a new performance-based pay system that would significantly reduce wages. To add insult to injury, it added that the company trade union had already accepted the plan on the workers’ behalf. The strike began two days later, with workers using the WeChat Red Envelope system to pay for banners, loud speakers etc. (China Labour Bulletin, Feb. 22)

  4. Guangzhou authorities force steel workers to end strike

    Workers at Ansteel in Guangzhou returned to work Feb. 24, ending their week-long strike, after local police branded their protests illegal and threatened to arrest any workers who continued to demonstrate, even inside the factory grounds. The state-owned company issued written warnings to at least 100 strikers, while offering those who returned to work a temporary bonus of 100 yuan a day. In a minor victory for the workers however, the company promised to cancel the planned pay system reform that had triggered the strike. (China Labour Bulletin)

  5. Marxism-Reaganism for China

    From the New York Times, March 3:

    Xi Jinping's Remedy for China's Economic Gloom Has Echoes of Reaganomics
    BEIJING — With the world looking to China for assurance that it can manage its slowing economy and tumultuous stock market, President Xi Jinping has begun pushing a remedy that sounds less like Marx and Mao than Reagan and Thatcher.

    Mr. Xi is calling his next big economic initiative “supply-side structural reform,” a deliberate echo of the nostrums of tax cuts and deregulation advocated by those conservative Western leaders in the 1980s.

    The new slogan, expected to receive top billing when China’s legislature convenes Saturday, represents an effort to rejuvenate Mr. Xi’s faltering plans to overhaul the Chinese economy. But he still faces widespread skepticism that he is committed to thorough restructuring, which would require reducing bloated state enterprises, along with millions of jobs.

    "Thatcher and Reagan are highly regarded because it was proven that they made the right choices under heavy pressure," said Jia Kang, an economist in the Ministry of Finance and the most prominent advocate of the new policies. "Their spirit was one of boldly taking on challenges and innovating, and that’s certainly worth Chinese people emulating."

    The supply side Mr. Xi is referring to would, like Reaganomics, include lowering taxes and reducing the government burden on investors. Yet its main goal appears to be shutting or paring down mines and factories that produce far more coal, steel, cement and other industrial products than the market demands and reining in the credit and subsidies that feed that glut.

    "Socialism," eh? Meanwhile, Reuters reported Feb. 29 that China announced it expects to lay off 1.8 million workers in the coal and steel industries, or about 15% of the workforce, "as part of efforts to reduce industrial overcapacity…"

  6. China: labor unrest hits mining sector

    Thousands of Chinese miners who say they have not been paid for months staged a rare protest in northeastern Shuangyashan city, days after the Heilongjiang governor made the apparently false claim that no miner working for the province's largest publicly-owned mining company was owed any back wages. In response, the Heilongjiang governmen issued a statement acknowledging that many employees are owed wages and benefits, backtracking from Gov. Lu Hao's assertions earlier this month. Lu said his government would continue to support Longmay Mining Holding Group but also ordered the firm to pay its workers their overdue wages. (SCMP, NYT, March 13)

  7. Guangdong labor activist released on bail

    Labor activist He Xiaobo returned to his home in Foshan on April 7 evening after four months in detention. He was reportedly released on bail after being charged with "misappropriation of funds." Two other activists, Zeng Feiyang and Meng Han, who were detained at the same time as He, remain in detention in Guangzhou charged with "gathering a crowd to disrupt social order." They weredetaied  December during a massive crackdown on labour activists in the Guangzhou region. More than a dozen activists were rounded up and detained the police, although only four of them were formally charged with criminal offences. Although most of the activists have now been released, they remain under surveillance and have mostly been unable to resume their work in support of local labor struggles. (China Labour Bulletin)

  8. Mother of detained labor activist sues China state media

    The mother of detained labour activist Zeng Feiyang (photo below) is suing the Xinhua News Agency for one million yuan and a public apology after it published a defamatory article about Zeng in December last year. Zeng’s mother, Chen Wenying, is also suing the local police and the Guangzhou detention centre where Zeng is being held for their part in a coordinated media smear campaign against her son. (CLB, April 12)

  9. Workers on strike at Dongguan ‘miracle’ factory

    Hundreds of workers at SAE Magnetics in Dongguan have been on strike since April 18, protesting forced layoffs and attempts by management to avoid paying compensation. The company, which manufactures parts for hard-drives and employs some 10,000, announced plans to shut down one large department last week, threatening the jobs of many workers who had been employed at the plant for more than 10 years. The entire factory, which was once portrayed as a shining example of China’s economic miracle and won visits from then-president Hu Jintao in the 2000's, is now threatened with closure. (CLB)

  10. Shenzhen workers win collective bargaining deal

    Some 100 workers at a Taiwanese-owned moulding factory in Shenzhen have successfully concluded a collective bargaining deal with management related to a possible change of ownership at the company. The agreement, signed May 9, guarantees workers at Hietech Precision Industry Co. long-service compensation in the event of a change of ownership, the payment of social insurance and housing fund contributions. The dispute began last month when workers began to hear rumors about a change of ownership at the factory. Workers, concerned about job security, tried to talk to the boss but failed. They then took things into their own hands and downed tools on April 27.  Zhang Zhiru, head of the Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service Centre in Shenzhen, who advised the workers in the bargaining process, said the successful outcome showed why collective bargaining is such an important tool for both workers and management. (CLB, May 12)

  11. Walmart retail workers walk out in China

    About 70 Walmart workers began a wildcat strike July 1 against an unpopular new flexible scheduling system. They are reacting against a campaign of intimidation by Walmart China, which has been trying to coerce store workers to accept the new schedules since May.

    This strike, at a store in the southeastern city of Nanchang (Jiangxi province), is the culmination of a month and a half of discussion and mobilization among Walmart workers and organizers across China. It was preceded by small-scale symbolic protests. The day before the strike, a few Walmart workers in protest T-shirts leafleted inside a store in the southern city of Shenzhen,   to inform workers about the scheduling system and their rights under labor law.

    Not all workers walked out at the Nanchang store, which managed to stay open. But clearly management was panicked over the unexpected action. Strikers also marched inside the store, chanting slogans. No picket line has been set up yet. (Labor Notes, July 1)

    A Walmart plant in Dongguan, Guangdong, was also hit by a wildcat strike in 2014.

  12. Strikes at Walmart stores in China begin to spread

    More than 200 workers from at least three Walmart stores in China went on strike over the weekend in protest against the company's introduction of a comprehensive working hours system. The workers also called for new trade union elections.

    On July 1, at least 130 workers at Store No. 5782 in Nanchang, Jiangxi, marched through the store, chanting “Walmart Workers Stand Up!” and “No to the Comprehensive Working Hours System!”  Over the next two days, some 30 workers at Store No. 2039 in the same city and another 60 employees at Store No.0209 in Chengdu, Sichuan, walked out. (CLB)

  13. Strikes unabated in China in 2016

    Despite some signs that the Chinese economy is stabilizing, labor unrest continues unabated with workers in all sectors and all in regions of the country staging strikes and protests in response to employer abuses. There were on average eight protests a day in the first six months of the year, most related to wage arrears, business closures and social insurance, according to data from China Labour Bulletin's Strike Map. In total, there were 1,454 protests in the first six months, compared with 1,224 in the first half of 2015, an increase of 18.6%. (CLB, July 7)

  14. Guangdong labor activists detained without trial

    Two leading labur activists have been detained without trial for nine months following a massive crackdown on civil society labor groups in Guangzhou in early December last year. The director of the Panyu Workers Service Center, Zeng Feiyang has been held since Dec. 3 in a Guangzhou detention center with severely restricted access to his lawyers. Authorities attempted to smear Zeng’s name in the national media and harassed his elderly mother when she sought to sue those media organizations for defamation.

    Panyu staff member, Meng Han, has also been detained for nine months. He has refused to cooperate with the investigation into Zeng Feiyang and, as a result, his parents have also been subject to intimidation. They were forced to move homes this summer after thugs attacked their apartment door with an axe. (CLB, Sept. 1)

  15. China: three labor organizers get suspended prison term

    A court in Guangdong on Sept. 26 sentenced three prominent labor organizers to suspended prison terms, almost nine months after they were arrested during a crackdown on civic organizations working outside of the Communist Party. Zeng Feiyang, who was indicted on claims of "gathering a crowd to disturb social order" was sentenced to three years with a four-year suspension, while the two other organizers, Tang Jian and Zhu Xiaomei, were sentenced to one-and-a-half years with two-year suspensions. The three activists were important figures in the labor movement in China, effective at organizing workers to fight for higher wages and better working conditions. While the activists could still be imprisoned if found guilty of any further offenses, the suspended sentences were called "a relatively good result" by human rights lawyer Chen Xuejin. (Jurist, Sept. 26)