Update on Liaoyang Workers' Protests

(Broadcast on 21 March, 2002)

For three continuous days since Monday, 18 March, approximately 4,000 workers and their families from the Liaoyang Ferroalloy Factory have been collectively petitioning the Liaoyang government for the release of their representative Yao Fuxin. Yao was secretly arrested by the government on 18 March. Their actions have attracted over 20,000 onlookers and supporters. On the morning of 20 March, the government ordered anti-riot police to use violence against the protestors and detained three more workers’ representatives. Please listen to the Yao Fuxin’s daughter description of today’s (20 March) protests in front of government offices.

Daughter:

I can tell you that the situation today was much more serious than the previous two days. There were three representatives detained today, Xiao Yunliang, Pang Qingxiang and Wang Zhaoming. All three were taken away. Today they used the People’s Armed Police (PAP) and the Public Security Bureau’s (PSB) own cadre police. They all came out and there were three truck loads of guys from a PAP unit in front of the gates to the government offices. The PAP pushed us out [of the government compound] into the rain where we were drenched, including 70 and 80 year old women. The ones wearing steel helmets are the anti-riot police.

Han Dongfang:

Did they use force against the workers?

Daughter:

Yes.

Yao Fuxin’s daughter also told us that the workers’ representatives were violently taken away.

Daughter:

It poured down with rain in Liaoyang today. We all got soaked during the petition and went home when the weather cleared up after deciding we would come back tomorrow. There were about 30-odd people protecting the workers’ representatives on the way home. Then the police and the PAP turned up and violently snatched the representatives right there on the main road. Some of the older folks were knocked down and trampled during the pushing and shoving. Lots of people were hurt.

Han:

So it happened when everyone had withdrawn and were on their way home?

Daughter:

Yes that’s right, on Democracy Road.

Han:

Were all the representatives together at the time?

Daughter:

Yes, they were all together and we had people protecting them on all sides.

Han:

How many people were protecting them?

Daughter:

Between 30 or 40 people, mainly older people. We thought that they wouldn’t dare to attack older people – at least that’s what we thought at the time. But they [the PAP and police] couldn’t care less. They just knocked them down anyway.

Han:

So does this mean that all the workers' representatives have been detained?

Daughter:

Basically yes. A few people are still here; they are all younger ones who have stuck their necks out, several of whom are under our protection.

Han:

Are they in hiding?

Daughter:

Yes, they’re in hiding.

She told us that one workers’ representative was nearly detained while inside the government building. Fortunately a worker witnessed the incident and a group of workers forced their way in and rescued him.

Daughter:

Also they detained another of our representatives, Gu Baoshu, when we were inside the government courtyard. He was trying to talk to the people from the Complaints Office to help us contact the leaders. He was dragged into a small room when nobody was looking. An old woman inadvertently saw what was happening. About 100 of us went up to the room to get him out. We forced opened the door and released him.

Han:

So he was released?

Daughter:

Yes. Only because we forced the door open.

Han:

Who was inside the room? Plain clothes police or…?

Daughter:

No. It was the city PSB chief Gong Yi!

I telephoned the Liaoyang government duty office to try and get more information on today’s petition.

Duty Office:

I don’t know much about this business. They didn’t come to us. Ring the Complaints Office, they know about it.

I rang the Complaints Office:

Complaints Office:

No, no, nothing happened. You asked them [the workers]? They are talking rubbish.

Han:

Absolutely no one was detained?

Complaints Office:

I’ll give you another Complaints Office number to ring, they know much more about it. As I said, I only got here at three o’clock.

I rang the alternative Complaints Office number:

Office:

You need to talk to the Party Committee’s External Affairs and Publicity Office about this matter. They are responsible for all communication with external bodies.

I rang the Party Committee’s External Affairs and Publicity Office and asked:

Han:

I heard that several workers were detained. Is this true?

Publicity Office:

Well ‘hearing’ about something is a bit too convenient. It’s your business if you are going to [rely on] gossip.

Han:

This isn’t gossip. It was the family member of a detained worker who told me.

Publicity Office:

Well you must be much more intelligent than I am. There you are so far away and you know everything and here’s me on-the-spot and I know nothing. So what's the point in interviewing me? If you already know, why are you asking me?

Han:

The people at the Complaints Office said you would know what was going on.

Publicity Office:

I am responsible for all the publicity and information work. All news and information has to go via my desk – and I don’t know.

Han:

Did the workers come out and petition today?

Publicity Office:

No comment.

Han:

Was anyone detained?

Publicity Office:

No comment.

Han:

These aren’t answers. It’s just evasion and dodging the question.

Publicity Office:

China is a country ruled by laws, and matters must be handled in accordance with the law. I have to keep to legal procedures in my work and this includes reporting and approval procedures. Don’t you journalists have to work in accordance with the law as well?

Han:

But don’t you think citizens have a right to know what’s going on?

Publicity Office:

I do not have the authority to casually pass on information to people.

Han:

Are you attached to the Party Committee or the city government?

Publicity Office:

Both.

Han:

They’re the same body?

Publicity Office:

Correct.

Han:

Generally speaking, what kind of approach has the government adopted to the workers’ demonstrations?

Publicity Office:

No Comment.

Han:

You can’t comment on this either?

Publicity Office:

Correct.

Han:

Why not?

Publicity Office:

No comment. It's diplomatic language.

Han:

Diplomatic language?

Publicity Office:

It’s a diplomatic term we use. No Comment.

Han:

I am only joking, but it seems like a pretty cushy job you’ve got there.

Publicity Office:

[Laughing] You think so? The bottom line in my work is to seek truth from facts. I think I do this better than some journalists. Some journalists don’t bother with the facts and that’s not doing their job properly. I am being practical and realistic and I am doing my job well.

Han:

Which journalists? Do you mean our journalists here in Liaoyang.

Publicity Office:

I don’t know. No comment.

I then telephoned Liaoyang Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU) not far from the government offices and the person who answered the phone told me what he knew about the workers’ protests and living conditions in Liaoyang.

LFTU:

My home is near the station and I can see the demonstrations and banners around the station. The demonstration started up at nine o’clock.

Han:

What was written on the banners?

LFTU:

It looked like they weren’t too happy with the city's leaders and the mayor.

Han:

The mayor?

LFTU:

Yes. Gong Shangwu. The head of the People’s Congress.

Han:

He’s the mayor and the head of the congress?

LFTU:

Yes. Before that he was Secretary of the Party Committee. [There have been] three days of demonstrations. There were more people the first two days, three to four thousand.

Han:

How do the ordinary citizens of Liaoyang view the Ferroalloy factory workers movement?

LFTU:

They support it.

Han:

They are in support?

LFTU:

Of course they are! The city leaders are in the wrong. If they weren’t then the workers wouldn’t be demonstrating. They don’t have enough to live on. Living standards should generally improve. But theirs are not.

Han:

How many Liaoyang workers are living in financial difficulties?

LFTU:

Many. So many people are laid off or have no work. There are two people in my family who are university graduates and they are still at home waiting for work.

Han:

University graduates with no work?

LFTU:

They can’t find work. Spend Rmb 30,000, get a reference from the mayor and then you can get work. We can’t afford all these gifts and bribes. If you don’t hand over the goodies then they don’t give you any work.

Han:

What is the percentage of families in Liaoyang who are in this kind of situation?

LFTU:

Between 50 and 60%.

Han:

That many?

LFTU:

Yes of course. There are too many people without an income. The minimum living standard is just no guarantee at all.

Finally, Yao Fuxin’s daughter also talked about future tactics:

Daughter:

The Ferroalloy Factory workers are on the edge of destitution. In another year we will have to go to the government begging for food with our empty rice bowls. We are not afraid anymore, we just want our representatives to be released and this business at the Ferroalloy Factory sorted out properly. We have already stuck our neck out; we can't be worried what will happen to us anymore.

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