[A-List] China: labour struggles
Michael.Keaney at mbs.fi
Wed Mar 20 05:49:11 MST 2002
Chinese workers march in protest over unpaid wages
By James Kynge in Beijing
Financial Times: March 20 2002
Several thousand Chinese workers on Tuesday converged on the town hall of an industrial "rustbelt" city to demand the release of their informal leader and the settlement of unpaid wages.
Liaoyang was the second city in the country's blighted north east to suffer worker unrest this month.
The workers, some waving banners protesting that wages had not been paid, flocked to the government building to demand the release of Yao Fuxin, a 53-year-old laid off ferroalloy worker who had been arrested by police for organising two days of peaceful protests last week.
Mr Yao's offence, according to witnesses, was to organise workers from 22 local factories to demand the dismissal of Gong Shangwu, the leading local delegate to the National People's Congress (legislature) in the capital Beijing, for failing to protect their rights.
On March 11, when Mr Gong was in Beijing, workers banded together to protest under a huge banner reading: "Remove Gong Shangwu from office".
The workers had also planned to lie down on railway tracks and urge the local authorities to allow them to form an independent trade union.
Trade unions in China must be controlled by the ruling Communist party.
By late Tuesday, witnesses in Liaoyang had no information on Mr Yao's whereabouts.
Such instances of protest illustrate the fragility of social stability in some parts of China as the country starts to implement its commitments under the World Trade Organisation, which it joined last December.
The WTO will mean deep cuts in tariffs and greater market access for foreign companies, intensifying competition for many Chinese companies.
Several thousand workers demonstrated last week in the north eastern oil town of Daqing, complaining over the meagre severance packages they were awarded and demanding that the state continues to pay their heating and insurance costs.
Such protests have been relatively common over the past four years.
However, they have not yet become as serious as a full-scale riot that took place in February 2000 in Yangjiazhangzi, a mining town in the north east. On that occasion, about 20,000 workers went on the rampage, burning cars, smashing windows and attacking the police.
Zhu Rongji, the premier of the state council, is anxious to keep a lid on the protests so that they do not spread to many cities at once.
Mr Zhu signed off on a record budget deficit this year and insisted to the session of parliament in early March that poor urban residents would receive enough money to have their essential needs met. He ordered that pensions and unemployment benefits should be paid on time.
One key problem that China faces is that its social welfare system remains delapidated despite over a decade of talk on how to build it up. A pilot scheme in the northeastern province of Liaoning has run up against problems, mainly because local governments often refuse to pay their share of the contribution.
This means that the burden increasingly falls on the central government. Xiang Huaicheng, the finance minister, said Rmb 86bn (£7.3bn) will be spent on social security benefits from the central budget, an increase of 28 per cent from last year.
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michael.keaney at mbs.fi
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