Workers' Voices in Sichuan and Liaoyang

(Broadcast on 19 March, 2002)

Striking Workers in Sichuan Forced Back to Work

Liaoning Workers Leader Secretly Detained

Striking Workers in Sichuan Forced Back to Work

On 13 March, more than one thousand workers from the Guangyuan Textile Factory in Sichuan went on strike. They were protesting that neither the government nor their employer had paid into the workers' pension funds for seven years. During the strike, workers blocked roads for two consecutive days and a number of them were detained. At least two workers are still in custody. Despite the arrests, workers continued their struggle until 19 March when the strike was formally called off. Please listen to the following interview with a local ACFTU chairperson who describes his work during the strike.

ACFTU:

Get workers to go on strike, how can that be ok? The workers are bound by the labour law . If there is a problem then it just has to be raised. This issue has already been raised and both the party committee and the government are taking it very seriously. Although there are still some outstanding issues to be answered, a basic solution has already been put in place. Sorting this kind of thing out involves a process and the workers should not adopt this kind of [strike] action.

When the original textile company was first bought out, the new owner promised to pay off the Rmb 12 million arrears to the workers' pension fund within three years. However after two years, only half of the arrears have been paid off and the company and local government have drawn up a new arrangement that allows another three years for the outstanding contributions to be settled. This new arrangement was fixed without any consultation with the workers.

ACFTU:

The original agreement was that the Rmb 12 million pension arrears would be paid off monthly, not all in one go.

Han Dongfang (Han):

What were the original terms - how much would be paid each month and how long would it take to clear the debts?

ACFTU:

Three years. Rmb six million has already been paid. The new agreement allows three years for the remainder to be paid off.

Han:

So the new terms state that the outstanding amount will be paid off in three years?

ACFTU:

Correct. That's the basic arrangement.

Han:

That means that the old agreement to pay off the pension contribution arrears in three years has now been extended to five years?

ACFTU:

Correct. That's about right.

Han:

Were the workers involved in discussions over the new agreement?

ACFTU:

This is er… well… this is…er…No, they weren't. It was an agreement between the enterprise and the government.

Han:

These arrears were owed to the workers, not the government. Why were the negotiations conducted with the government and not with the workers?

ACFTU:

I can't answer that question.

Han:

So at the end of the day, how will it be known if the workers agreed?

ACFTU:

This is down to our propaganda work. The company, party committee and city government held a meeting and once the consultation was finished a formal agreement was drawn up. Once the workers saw it, they were basically able to agree to the terms. As of today, normal production has been resumed.

Were the workers really satisfied [with the terms] and therefore agreed to call off the action? Please listen to the views of one of the women workers from the textile factory.

Worker:

If we don't go back to work, we're sacked. That's what it says on all the notice boards at work. So everyone has gone back. I 'd like to say thank you for your concern for the workers at our factory. You know, we workers really need all the support we can get The cadres and the leaders are getting their full wages while we workers are getting just six yuan per day. Less than two hundred bucks a month altogether.

She also pointed out that the workers had no idea about the terms of the new agreement.


Worker:

We don't know anything about it. All we want is our pension contributions paid up in full. They have been making monthly deductions from our wages for pensions and unemployment insurance and these have not been paid [into the funds]. We have a perfectly reasonable demand.

Finally, on hearing about the Liaoyang workers taking to the streets to rescue their detained leaders, she said that although strikers from her factory had been arrested, the workers were powerless to do anything.

Worker:

Right now, people are hardly able to look after themselves, let alone anyone else. How can we be like those guys [in Liaoyang]. Maybe some people have stuck their necks out up there in Liaoning province and are acting as workers' representatives. Maybe they've got a plan. But you know, it's not like that down here at our factory.

Han:

That's why we say if there are no workers' representatives, then there's no strength.

Worker:

Yes. That's exactly the point. How can we dare to have representatives? Anyone who acts as a representative is going to get grabbed and that's the end of it.




Liaoning Workers Leader Secretly Detained

For two consecutive days on 18 and 19 March, more than 30,000 workers from 20 plus factories gathered in front of the government offices in the city of Liaoyang. Their principal demand was for the release of one of their secretly detained representatives Yao Fuxin. Please listen to the following explanation of the situation with another Liaoyang workers' representative named Xiao.

Workers' Representative:

This morning we arrived at 8 am and left at 12 noon. More than 30,000 workers from all over the city. Basically, all the enterprises in Liaoyang are in the same situation, so the citizens have come out in support. We've had letters of support as well.

Han Dongfang (Han):

Has there been any response from the government?

Workers' Representative:

The guy from the Complaints Office has been co-ordinating with the Mayor, but he then came out and said there was no response from the government. They are hiding Today, there were lots more riot police on the streets as well.

Han:

Is your personal safety under threat?

Workers' Representative:

Of course my personal safety in under threat! I don't know if they will come and get me tonight. I have been in hiding these last few days.

Han:

Facing this kind of threat to your personal safety, why do you continue to serve as a workers' representative?

Workers' Representative:

[In our factory alone] there are over 5,000 employees - which means 20,000 people don't know where the next meal is coming from. So many of us are living on the breadline. What kind of future do we have? Our children won't have any work. I have two kids myself who aren't working. Right now, we have got to get this all-pervading corruption sorted out. The factories are being ruined by these corrupt officials. The bosses and the city leaders are in it together and are ruining our industry pure and simple. Our factory was fine. The machinery wasn't old, it was run efficiently and the products were good. We've got our hands on so much information [to prove this] and have taken it to the Central Committee in Beijing, the Disciplinary Committee there, the State Council's General Office and Complaints Station. We've been everywhere but always get the same response - we don't get to see anyone. We've been working on this anti-graft business for more than four years. We've been to the ACFTU on a number of occasions but they've never taken any real notice of us. So now we've changed our tactics.

Mr. Xiao also commented on possible future courses of action by the workers:

Workers' Representative:

Yao Fuxin is our representative and he has been detained. Our main priority is to get him released; we are even willing to drop all our other demands. This is the general view of all the factory workers at our plant. After we've got him out, we have to discuss the next step in the fight against corruption. We have to get rid of this corruption! I am 57 and a communist party member. I joined back in '65 because I believed the party's aim was to secure the welfare of the people. What I see now is that they are not providing welfare to the people, so we ordinary people have to rely on ourselves to protect our right to a livelihood.

Han:

From our factory, how many people taking part in this action are party members?

Workers' Representative:

Many. And cadres as well. We're all in the same boat.

Mr. Xiao also commented on the support and solidarity from the international trade union movement:

Workers Representative:

Of course, this support is most welcome. If it wasn't for this support then we would be totally unsafe. We are in a really difficult position right now and without your help and solidarity it would be even more dangerous - things would be even worse. We would like to express our thanks for all support.

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