Beginning 11 March, 2002, workers in the city of Liaoyang launched a protest movement against corruption. At its highpoint, more than 30,000 workers gathered in front of government buildings in a show of strength comparable to the ongoing protests by the oil workers in Daqing. On 17 March, the Liaoyang government ordered the secret arrest of workers representative Yao Fuxin. On 20 March, three more representatives were taken into custody: Pang Qingxiang, Xiao Yunliang and Wang Zhaoming. On the 19, 20 and 21 March, over 1,000 workers from the Liaoyang Ferroalloy factory demonstrated in the streets for three consecutive days, demanding the release of their representatives. Under pressure from the workers, the Public Security Bureau (PSB) made an exception and allowed Yao Fuxin to telephone his wife, who said he hoped that the workers would temporarily call off their street protests to allow a cooling off period. Please listen to Yao Fuxin's wife, Guo Xiujing, describe the phone call with her husband.
He rang at between 9 and 10 o'clock last night.
Yes, Yao Fuxin. When he rang, someone else came on the line first and said: are you a relative of Yao Fuxin? I said yes. Then he said: Well, he would like to have a few words with you. That was it. Then he let Yao Fuxin persuade me to talk to everyone and ask them to call off the demonstrations. After Yao had finished I asked him: Are you ok? He said: Yes and that he had already talked to Gong Yi (Chief of Police - Ed). I asked: What did he say? He said: Nothing much. That's what Yao said. He didn't give any precise day when people would be released. The main thing he talked about was that people should stay off the streets and stop demanding that the government release people, people need to calm down as he has already talked with Gong Yi. I said: So what did he say about you and the others [detainees]? He said: It's nothing; nothing to worry about. That's about it really.
How is his health?
He didn't say. The main thing is that now these leaders of ours have been picked up. There are some other younger guys who will stick their necks out, so that means the PSB will just carry on detaining people. Anyone who acts as a representative will just get picked up. We don't want things to get that bad. That is not our aim. In fact, if they had released the people they detained then we wouldn't be where we are now.
Did the families of the other representatives also receive phone calls?
No. Just myself.
Mrs. Guo also said that of the workers' representatives who were detained on 21 March, Guo Suxiang, the wife of detained representative Pang Qingxiang, was released on the same day. The situation of a detained worker from the Printing and Dyeing Factory remains unclear. What is the current mood of the Ferroalloy workers? What are their plans? Guo Xiujing again:
After Yao rang last night, I spent the evening ringing around to tell people to stay off the streets. He had already rang. The pressure on them [the government] should be eased up. The only people who can get people to stay at home are the relatives of the few [leaders] themselves. If anyone else tries this, it won't wash with the workers. Today I made a special trip to Block 15 where the relatives live to talk about it. It has to come from us or it won't work. When I got there, everybody came up. The whole block was surrounded.
Were there lots of people hanging around there waiting?
Yes. They all wanted to go and demonstrate. But once I got down there and talked to them they got the message. Right now everyone is waiting for news [of the representatives]. If they release them within a few days then we won't prepare for any further action. We are just waiting to see how things develop. If they don't release people, then we'll have to have a rethink; but if they do release people, then we'll leave it at that. For the moment, we will wait and see. Some workers in the factory [factories] are not going to give in and they will inevitably want to demonstrate. If they hadn't detained Yao Fuxin, then matters at the Ferroalloy Factory wouldn't have got so bad.
So the plan today is to suspend the protests?
Yes. We've called them off for a few days to wait for news. If they release them in the next few days then we won't demonstrate.
In order to calm a tense situation, the Liaoyang workers have decided to call off the demonstrations. Over in Daqing, the oil workers' demonstrations are already in their fourth week. What are the latest developments there? A worker from the Ranhu Road train station told me that the station was still on high alert.
There are military police from all units of Daqing deployed here at the station as a precaution.
To be prepared in case anything happens?
Yes. That's the situation. We have been told to be on the alert at all times and report any incidents immediately.
So is this a state of high alert?
Correct. That's the situation. We've been told to keep the station running smoothly and report any incident immediately. The fact is, the police are here all the time anyway, the government has put them on duty here. The station leading officials are also on duty, as well as the police. It's round-the-clock stuff. They are practically living here.
A cadre from the Daqing City Complaints Office told me that the workers' action had already achieved results.
Take the problem of arrangements for their [the retrenched workers] children. As far as we understand the situation, the retrenched workers' children were not included. Since they have been petitioning, the rule has been announced that they get the same treatment as the employed workers.
For two consecutive days on 4 and 5 March, the number of workers protesting hit 50,000. At the same time, approximately 2,000 workers from the Huabei oilfield gathered in front of the local Petroleum Administration Bureau to express support for the Daqing oil workers and at the same time put forward their own demands for continued medical insurance. What is the current situation at Huabei? Please listen to a report from a cadre at the Huabei Complaints Office.
Small scale [protests] are still taking place, but not on the scale of Daqing. They are demanding medical and retirement insurance, especially medical insurance. But we told them that of all oilfields in the country, only the Daqing oilfield provided medical insurance for its workers, nowhere else. So we said we couldn't provide that.
Have they got medical insurance in Daqing?
So I heard. But we do our publicity work well here and people believe us. No one has been petitioning any more.
Two years ago, the oil industry began to lay off many workers. An official from the Daqing Petroleum Administration Bureau (DPAB) told me that workers' opinions were not sought at the time, hence causing trouble today.
Over the last 18 months the oil industry has been split into various subsidiaries - this is how things have got to this point now. My guess is that if it hadn't been split up then the situation would be little better. This decision wasn't down to us here in Daqing, it was from Beijing. It's related to when the petroleum companies were listed on the stock market - especially when PetroChina was listed. We put our opinions forward through the regular channels, but they didn't ask for the views of the workers or solicit the opinion of the staff and workers' congress. If they had done that, it might have turned out better.
But anyway, I am not saying that the decision was made by the China National Petroleum Corporation (PetroChina). It was the central's [government] decision that all good assets would be listed on the stock market.. PetroChina was the main oil company to be listed on the New York and Hong Kong exchanges. Now
this . . I can't say much. But it was Beijing's decision; I know that doesn't sound too good. The workers have gone through all the proper channels they can find to reflect their opinions. But now we are so far down the road, what can be done? Beyond doubt, Daqing does not have the capacity to sort this out. Absolutely not. Because they have to listen to Beijing who decide how to sort out the oil industry in the country.
These oil workers are pioneers; they founded our industry. These problems are all after effects of the splitting up process. If they had done it properly in the first place, there wouldn't be so many workers on the streets today. It's the result of how they went about it.
He went on to say that on 21 March, the temperature in Daqing dropped by 8 to 10 degrees and this reduced the numbers on the streets.
It's clear there are far fewer people out today, far fewer. Maybe a few hundred or so. There were a few more yesterday. But today maybe it's down to the weather and the temperature. It's no more than 5 degrees today, a drop of 8 to10 degrees. Also, Saturday and Sunday are always pretty quiet so maybe there will be more people on Monday. The People's Armed Police (PAP) and ordinary police are not here today either, but they'll be back if it starts up again on Monday.
Regarding recent speculations about plans to deploy army troops into Daqing, he believed that the Communist Party wouldn't dare to use troops to deal with Daqing workers.
Well, you see, Daqing is an important place with a lot of influence, in the oil industry and in the country.