China is experiencing increased social unrest as strike wave hits Shanghai region and the Pearl River Delta industrial area, whilst in Guangdong, thousands of villagers staged a sit-into protest against corruption and repression.
Hundreds of workers, many of them women, at a Singapore-owned electronics factory in Shanghai have been on strike for more than a week over plans to relocate the plant to the outskirts of the city. They want to be compensated if the factory moves, as they face journeys of up to one and a half hours a day on top of very long shifts, sometimes 20 hours long, and many do not want to make the move.
The management is taking a hard line and threatening to sack any workers who do not return to work within three days and refusing to pay compensation even though many of the workers have been at the factory for years. The workers have been picketing the factory, attempting to block the removal of heavy equipment, and hundreds of police moved in on Tuesday to arrest them.
This strike is not an isolated event: workers frequently strike in China, and there is currently a wave of action taking place both in the Shanghai region and in the Pearl River Delta industrial area. In Taicang, near Shanghai, there is a continuing strike at a Japanese-owned electronics factory over the abuse of a Chinese worker by a Japanese manager, while in Shenzhen in the Pearl River Delta, more than 1,000 workers have been on strike for 6 days against plans to relocate a circuit-board factory, owned by a Hong Kong based company, to a more remote area, without paying compensation. Last month, over 10,000 workers were involved in strikes in Shenzhen and Dongguan over cuts to overtime, which is essential for them to survive as their basic pay is so low.
These disputes are symptoms of deep problems affecting the Chinese economy, with employers trying to cut costs in the face of the world economic crisis, attempting to make workers pay either through worsening conditions or by moving production to ever-cheaper areas.
Unrest is taking the form of street protests as well as strikes: in Guangdong, thousands of villagers staged a sit-in this week to protest against the continued illegal requisition of their land by corrupt local officials, and the detention of one of their leaders by the State Security Bureau. Young villagers are conducting evening patrols to try to prevent further detentions and some have suggested taking officials hostage to secure the release of their leader. This issue of land theft by officials regularly triggers mass protests in the countryside.
There have also been violent scenes after the police took more than three hours to reach the scene of an accident in which a slag truck killed a ten year old girl in Xian at the weekend. People in Xian are very angry at the failure of the authorities to act against the dangers posed by the slag trucks, which have caused the deaths of 47 people so far this year in the city. When the police did arrive, their first action was to try to move the crowd on rather than removing the child’s body from under the truck, sparking the fury of the people who had gathered.
The government is talking about better ‘social management’ in the face of expected unrest. A member of the politburo in charge of security, Zhou Yongkang, recently told a seminar of provincial government officials that they had to do more to prepare for the ‘negative effects of the market economy’. The government is apparently very worried about the effects of a manufacturing slowdown combined with rising inflation, which were both factors in the run up to the Tiananmen protests in 1989. Its main hope is to keep growth going but it also plans both a somewhat better safety net for unemployed workers, combined with police repression and stricter censorship.
For udated mapping of China unrest see: https://chinastrikes.crowdmap.com/main
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