Chinese Workers Mobilize Mass Protest Against Privatization
More than 1,000 military police and police officers sent by the Chongqing Municipal Government forcefully occupied a factory formerly owned by the army in the early morning of 30 August, in an attempt to end a mass protest by workers against the ownership restructuring of the factory, according to workers there interviewed by China Labor Bulletin. The workers had been on strike and occupying the factory since August 18.
The enterprise in question is the Chongqing Shanhua Special Vehicle Factory, located in Huaxi town in the Ba’nan district of Chongqing municipality. Prior to the recent restructuring it was known as Factory 3403 and was owned by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The workers launched their protest action to signal their determined opposition to the local government’s recent selling off of the factory, which was worth 200 million Yuan, to a private company for a price of only 22 million Yuan. They are angry that the sale was not put out to public tender, and they have made a counterproposal to the government whereby the workers themselves would purchase the factory at a higher price than the one already agreed to and would then operate the factory on a collective and democratic management basis.
According to a reliable source, officials of the Ba’nan district government and Public Security Bureau attempted to enter the factory on August 22 to arrest the organizers of the labor action by claiming that they were undertaking an investigation, but on that occasion the workers managed to protect their leaders.
On 24 August, the Chongqing Municipal Committee initiated a negotiation with the workers and demanded to be allowed to enter the factory in order to remove confidential documents and weapons that were being stored there. The workers agreed to this, but insisted that the officials should not enter the accounting office, for fear they might destroy evidence of financial impropriety by the factory’s managers. The municipal committee refused to agree to this condition and the negotiations then broke down.
A retired female worker of Factory 3403 told CLB [China Labor Bulletin] that more than 1,000 military police and police officers forced their way into the factory and the staff dormitory around 4:00 a.m. on 30 August. About 10 police officers then stood guard at the entrance to each building and prevented the workers and their families from leaving. Even retired workers who wanted to do their morning exercise outside were denied permission to leave the premises.
The source also stated that the company which had bought Factory 3403 at the knock-down price, Endurance Industrial Stock Co. Ltd, had sent a large number of workers from its headquarters on the same day to occupy the factory and prevent any of the protesting workers from entering the premises to continue their opposition to the sale.
A young worker from Factory 3403 was reportedly beaten in the police action and disappeared thereafter, while the mother of another worker had her arm broken during the incident.
China Labor Bulletin called the Ba’nan District Trade Union and other government departments to enquire about the police occupation of Factory 3403. A cadre of the trade union claimed he had never heard of such an incident, while an official from the Ba’nan district government said the dispute had now been settled, but denied that any conflict had occurred. The Ba’nan district public security bureau refused to comment on the incident or to confirm whether any workers had been injured or arrested.
Finally, an official from the district Trade and Economic Cooperation Committee confirmed that the police had arrested two workers for allegedly assaulting police during the police occupation of the factory. He asserted that the workers’ protest against selling the factory at a low price was “due to their ignorance of government policy.” The official also said that the municipal and district governments had set up a special taskforce to deal with the situation at Factory 3403 at the time of the workers’‚ initial sit-in occupation. He also claimed that the government had previously been unaware of the workers’‚ unhappiness and feelings of anger at the plan to sell and restructure the factory.
Workers from the factory told CLB that the factory had owed many of them unpaid wages prior to its restructuring and had claimed it would repay them afterwards, but this later proved to be an empty promise. Moreover, workers made unemployed by the restructuring were now only receiving a monthly minimum living allowance of 80 yuan from the government. In addition, the factory had failed to buy any medical insurance for the workers, despite its promises to do so.
The Chongqing 3403 Factory workers have expressed their determination to continue their protest against the factory sell-off and in defense of their basic living standards and livelihood by all legal means at their disposal.
—China Labor Bulletin, (Hong Kong), September 13, 2004