Over 30,000 Liaoyang Workers Demonstrate to Demand Yao's Release

(Broadcast on 18 March, 2002)

For two consecutive days on March 11 and 12, over 10,000 workers in Liaoyang city, Liaoyang province hit the streets to demand that the government ensure their right to a decent standard of living. The workers also denounced the city's parliament, the Liaoyang People's Congress, saying it had failed in its duty to effectively supervise the government. This failure had led to widespread corruption in the reform of the city's state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The workers demanded that the chairman of the Liaoning People's Congress should accept his responsibility and resign.

During the second day of protest, on 12 March, eleven city leaders including the chief of police, addressed a crowd of 10,000 workers and promised that they would refrain from further arrests of protest organisers. The workers could therefore relax and go home. However, on the morning of 17 March, an organiser from the Tiehe Jin Factory (Liaoyang Ferroalloy Factory) Yao Fuxin was picked up near his home by plain-clothes police officers. Despite the pleas of his family and fellow workers, Yao had taken the government leaders at their word and left his home alone.

The next morning, 18 March, more than 30,000 workers demonstrated in demand of Yao's immediate release. When I inquired about Yao's arrest at the Liaoyang government office, the cadre who answered the phone refused to acknowledge the incident.



Cadre:

Nothing like that has happened. I don't know anything about it.

Han Dongfang (Han):

Well if you people at the government office don't know anything about it, who does?

Cadre:

You need to ask the Complaints Office. They will know what's going on. Ask them.

Han:

Will the Complaints Office definitely know about it?

Cadre:

Yes. They should know. Their job is to deal with complaints and petitions so they are bound to know.

I phoned the Complaints Office:

Cadre:

I need to report to our chief first. We are just office staff here and can’t tell you anything concrete about the incident. I need to report to the chief first before I say anything. Anyway, I couldn't tell you anything precise as I don't know about it.

Han:

Apart from claiming you "don't know", does you office know anything about anything?

Cadre:

Er…well…um…How can I tell you I know about it? I am just an individual clerk. How can I comment on government policies?

I rang the Public Security Bureau (PSB - the police)

PSB Officer on duty:

I don't know about the situation.

Han:

Well if the PSB doesn't know what's going on, who can explain the situation to me?

PSB Officer:

Couldn't tell you. I don't know.

Han:

Who is responsible in the PSB for this kind of …[phone line is cut]

The following is an account of the events leading up to Yao Fuxin's detention from his daughter, along with a description of the events on the morning of 18 March when more than 30,000 Liaoyang workers demonstrated in demand of Yao's release.

Daughter:

Following the initial several days of petitioning, the chief-of-police and 10 other government leaders promised us that they would not make any further arrests. But when my Dad left the house to buy some cigarettes he was detained before he got to the end of the street. It wasn't uniformed police who picked him up but people in civilian clothes.

Han:

Were they plain-clothes police officers?

Daughter:

If it was, they should have phoned to tell us they had detained him. That's the correct procedure, isn't it? But we still haven't heard any news and this happened nearly two days ago. We don't know anything.

Han:

When was he detained?

Daughter:

About 8 o'clock yesterday morning. You could say he was kidnapped. We went to the police station but they wouldn't acknowledge he had been detained. They said they didn't know anything about it and all this hadn't happened.

Han:

Have the workers been to the government to demand his release?

Daughter:

Oh yes. They've been to the police station as well. But the police leaders are just hiding.

Han:

How many people took part?

Daughter:

Between 30 and 40,000 from almost all the major enterprises in Liaoyang. They have returned now. Many people are quite old and can't carry on for long. They've all come back now and will demonstrate again tomorrow.

Han:

Now that Mr. Yao has been picked up, are there any other leaders from the Ferroalloy Factory?

Daughter:

Yes. And right now all the workers’ representatives are under the protection of the workers. But they can't hide very well. Liaoyang city is only so big, there is nowhere you can hide.

Han:

So the situation is that workers from the various factories are providing physical protection for their leaders.

Daughter:

Yes. Everyone has gone back to their neighbourhoods and are sitting around the representatives’ houses in order to protect them. This is what we have to do. One of us has already been taken away and if others are arrested then who is going stick their necks out and speak up. Especially with this terror going on, we have to rely on the pressure of public opinion at your end. Being just workers, there is no way we can talk to them [the authorities]. The only other way is to lie across the railway tracks. There’s not much else we can do. We’ve been to the central [government], we’ve been to everyone we can think of, but nobody takes any notice.

Han:

Have you been to Beijing [to petition]?

Daughter:

Yes, four years ago, but we didn’t get any response. No body took any notice of us. The workers from the Ferroalloy Factory know the score. First they went to the city authorities, then the province-level and then finally to the central [government]. Level by level, but it still didn’t work. Now the government is saying they will repress us all – arrest everyone.

Han:

There are so many people here, tens of thousands. How can they arrest everyone?

Daughter:

Well of course they can’t, but they will still try! There is no way they can really meet the demands of the workers. Their corruption and embezzlement has led to debts too great to cancel out. They can’t arrest all the workers. The people who have demonstrated are on the edge of existence with nothing to loose. There’re too many for them to arrest all. These people haven’t committed crimes. We are simply asking for our wages so we can carry on living – what’s wrong with that? I want to live and eat. I don’t want to eat fancy food, just enough to get by. Right now, there are so many laid off workers in Liaoyang with no dole and no wages. We are all being squeezed tight. Think about it, if you're 30 to 40 years old and they pay you off with a few thousand bucks – how long is that cash going to last for?

Han:

Do the workers here in Liaoyang know about the workers’ protests in Daqing?

Daughter:

We’ve heard about it. We all know.

Han:

Are people united?

Daughter:

We’re united. How could we not be? Workers from all the city’s enterprises have formed alliances. The only reason the workers from the Ferroalloy Factory haven’t blocked the railway tracks is that this will give the government an excuse to grab our representatives and lock them up. If it wasn’t for this, then we would have blocked the tracks already. With things as they are, why should we fear death?




Today, 18 March, the protests by Daqing oil workers are already into their 18th day and according to foreign press reports filed from the city, there are now under 10,000 workers gathered in Daqing’s central square. A foreign correspondent was told that at least one worker had been arrested, but this information had not been confirmed. An official from the Daqing PAB Complaints Office told me on the telephone:

DPAB Official:

We are not answering [that type of question].

Han:

Who will answer it?

DPAB Official:

Nobody can. Don’t ring this number again.

Han:

Is there another number I can call?

DPAB Official:

I don’t know.

Han:

Are you afraid to answer?

DPAB Official:

Hey, I can’t say.

Han:

Are the people in your office under any kind of pressure?

Official:

Hey, I can’t say. Let’s just leave it at that. Goodbye.

I rang the General Affairs Bureau of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU):

ACFTU Cadre:

We haven’t heard anything about this matter. We have a complaints department which deals with this kind of matters. I’ll give you their phone number, ok?

I rang the ACFTU’s Complaints Department:

ACFTU Cadre:

You can tell us [what's happening] and we'll listen. But we haven’t heard anything about this case you are talking about.

Han:

Well I am telling you about it now.

ACFTU Cadre:

Yes, you did. Yet I can only wait for our leaders to return tomorrow and talk to him about it.

A cadre-in-charge of the Complaints Department took over the phone and spoke.

ACFTU Cadre:

He didn't explain this question clearly. These 50,000 workers haven’t been to this office here. If they did, I would certainly receive them. You certainly can’t represent them, so I can just file the information and make a report to the relevant people. Furthermore, we have to be very clear why these guys lead workers on to the streets. If there is no legitimate reason, then there is nothing we can do if they have been detained.

Han:

Do you think that there is no reason for workers in China to demonstrate in the streets now?

ACFTU Cadre:

I can’t say. I don’t know the situation, so I can’t say.

Han:

Do you think this type of thing [large scale protests] could happen?

Cadre:

This question of yours -- I, I…It’s difficult for me to say. They shouldn’t be on the streets. Leading workers onto the streets is not correct.

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