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In face of worker unrest, China launches 'Strike-Hard' campaign

July 2, 2010

Epoch Times
June 30, 2010

A wave of strikes in Chinese factories recently
has highlighted the lack of authentic rights for
Chinese workers and other inequities in Chinese
society. In response, the regime is launching a “Strike-Hard” campaign.

According to China analysts, the recent wave of
strikes is a reflection of simmering social
discontent and unrest as a result of social
inequality, injustice, and rising inflation. Many
of the striking workers are not only demanding
pay raises, but are also asking for independent unions.

If the strikes escalate they may threaten China's
position as the factory of the world, and thus
threaten the communist regime’s popular
legitimacy and survival. However, experts say
that responding to the workers demands with brute force will not work.

On June 13 the Chinese Ministry of Public
Security announced that it will launch a
seven-month-long "Strike-Hard" campaign to “crack
down on violent crimes that seriously affect the
public’s sense of security” as China goes through
an economic transition and social transformation.

Rising labor rights awareness

Xu Yimin, a migrant workers’ rights activist in
Jilin Province, in his blog called for an
independent labor union, stating that the string
of suicides at Foxconn and the subsequent strikes
across the country were mainly due to “workers
having no voice, rights, or means of expression.”

New Tang Dynasty Television (NTDTV) said in a
June 24 report that last year, migrant rural
workers from northeastern Jilin Province applied
to authorities to form their own union but were rejected.

Around the same time the state-run All-China
Federation of Trade Unions released a report
warning that young migrant workers are
increasingly willing to make demands from the
state, a development construed as “a test for stability in the country.”

Official unions suppress strikes

Labor unions in China are state-controlled and
generally side with the management and local
communist officials, instead of representing
workers. Thus, while on the surface it appears
that the regime has allowed the recent strikes to
take place, it was actually only in foreign-owned
companies that workers were permitted to strike,
according to a recent analysis in The Epoch Times.

The report found that, "The greatest benefit [the
regime] stands to gain by allowing [the strikes]
is a better international face for its political
system - protests allowed at multinational
enterprises could make it seem to the world that
the regime is changing its policies of clamping
down on even the most fundamental of people’s rights.”

Among the several-dozen plants where strikes took
place in May, two serve as examples of the very
different outcomes: the Japanese-owned Honda
factory in Foshan, Guangdong Province, and a
Chinese-owned and operated cotton mill in Pingdingshan City, Henan Province.

Honda workers eventually claimed victory and
received pay raises, while striking workers at
the Pingdingshan cotton mill were brutally
cracked down on by 2,000 to 3,000 police on June 1.

However, workers in both plants accused the
government-backed unions of suppressing the striking workers.

"The union is worse than the mafia," workers at
the Pingdingshan cotton mill told Asia Weekly.

Workers at the Honda plant said the official
local union took workers’ money but suppressed
the strike with violence. The workers therefore
demanded the reorganization of the existing local
union and reelection of the union chairmen and relevant personnel.

Media black-out

At the same time the Communist Party
superficially acquiesced to the strikes at the
foreign-funded manufacturing plants, China’s
Minister of Commerce played down their significance in comment to state media.

And while Chinese media devoted ample coverage to
the Honda workers’ strike in May, BBC China and
Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post recently
reported that China’s Central Propaganda
Department has issued an order to kill domestic media coverage on the subject.

Regime facing challenges

A number of China experts say the regime is
launching the "Strike-Hard" campaign in response
to the raft of social challenges that threaten
its leadership, credibility, and survival.

Economic and political commentator Jason Ma said
in a commentary program on NTDTV that for years
tension and social conflicts under communist rule
have been accumulating, and are now beginning to
surface. This can be seen in the spate of the
school killings, the recent strikes, and the
desperate and violent resistance to forced
demolition exhibited by Chinese citizens over the
past few months, he says. Mr. Ma argues that this
all makes the regime worried that public discontent will boil over.

Apart from those ructions, inflation and the high
cost of living are of daily concern to China’s workers.

Over the last two months inflation in particular
has grown rapidly, and violence by the state is
being used to deter violence on the part of the
citizenry, according to Mr. Ma. The “Strike Hard"
campaign exemplifies this mindset, he says, and
with it the regime seeks to tighten control for at least the next seven months.

Dr. Showing Young, an Associate Professor of the
Department of Business Administration at National
Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan, also said that
out-of-control inflation will eventually hit
China and force low-income Chinese workers to
revolt. With the proliferation of cheap modern
communication technologies, the regime will find
it increasing difficult to suppress Chinese
workers from organizing protests and strikes, Mr. Young said.

Both Messrs. Ma and Young warned that using
violence to maintain stability may eventually backfire.

Professor Guo Yuhua of the Sociology Department
at Beijing University feels similarly, and says
she is furious with local governments suppressing
striking workers. She told Asia Weekly that it’s
time to reexamine the notion of stability.

"The regime thinks suppression can solve
problems, yet only by protecting people’s rights
can stability be maintained," Prof. Guo said.

Prof. Guo also said that since the Chinese
Communist Party was built on the worker and
peasant class, if the regime does not handle the
strikes well the ruling party may further erode its popular legitimacy.

Meanwhile, strikes have continued into June, at
Denso Corp., the Toyota supplier in Guangzhou on
June 21; Toyoda Gosei in Tianjing on June 17; and
Honda Lock in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province on June 9, among others.

The Chinese labor unrest has also been noticed
among union officials in the U.S. According to a
June 14 Reuters report the AFL-CIO, America’s
largest labor union, is considering asking the
Obama administration to investigate whether China
gains an unfair trade advantage by denying workers' rights.
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