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China faces growing labor unrest
Christian Science Monitor ^ | March 25, 2002 | Robert Marquand

Posted on 03/24/2002 1:51:37 PM PST by Cincinatus' Wife

To a simple worker, such lump sums seem mind-boggling. Yet, the jobless are now finding that in the new China, they must pay roughly $1,900 a year in costs never before anticipated - heating and medical and pension insurance, formerly paid by the state.

FUSHUN, CHINA - The main road into Fushun in China's northern "rust belt" is lined with weedy factory yards and brick buildings so crumbled it appears a marauding army passed through.

Last week, as part of a large wave of labor protests in northern China, an army did twice block this road - an army of 4,000 to 10,000 xiagang, or laid-off workers, from heavy industries that were once the pride of China's command-and-control economy.

As many as 80,000 idled workers in Fushun and two other cities have taken to the streets recently.

Silently, illegally, like xiagang in nearby Daqing and Liaoyang, Fushun's former coal, cement, steel, and petrochemical factory employees marched to government offices, braving police and demanding living allowances they say stopped months ago. Late last week, Fushun officials dispersed the crowd by distributing about $9 to each protester.

In the rust belt, a deeply felt sense of grievance and fear is fodder for a potential mass movement not seen in China for many years. Such protests alone are not new. What's new is the combination of factors: the numbers of protesters, the cross-factory dialogue among workers, the simultaneous nature of the protests, a set of demands with a political edge to them, and unrest in the model Maoist city of Daqing.

China may have defused the protests, but it has yet to report them in its own media - evidence, experts say, of the level of sensitivity among officials to any independent activity outside Communist Party lines.

"There is a real sense of crisis," says one laid-off Fushun worker who sells statuettes carved from black amber, a local stone. "In the Mao era, people had security."

As China shifts to a market system, hundreds of inefficient state-owned enterprises have closed. The Tiger Platform coal mine in Fushun laid off 24,000 of 30,000 miners two years ago. Economists in and out of China agree such industries must go. But the "buyout" methods are leaving millions of unemployed, like those in Fushun, facing a threadbare future, even as they watch on TV - and on the streets - a new generation of Chinese, sometimes old bosses and their families, flaunting flashy new cars and cellphones, and spending wads of cash on shoes that would buy groceries for two years.

As industries close, a generation of the proletariat,raised under communist ideology to believe they were the "masters" of the country, now feel at the mercy of bankrupt companies and cash-poor municipalities.

For years, idled workers were designated as xiagang, a category meaning "laid off but not officially unemployed." The factory had to pay them a stipend of $30 to $55 a month. But under a new policy of factory buyouts that began two years ago, workers got a lump sum calculated according to the number of years worked. Once the buyout is finished, the factory no longer has responsibility. In Fushun, 20 years in the coal mines yields a buyout worth about $4,400.

To a simple worker, such lump sums seem mind-boggling. Yet, the jobless are now finding that in the new China, they must pay roughly $1,900 a year in costs never before anticipated - heating and medical and pension insurance, formerly paid by the state.

"They've been raised to eat from the iron rice bowl," says a Western diplomat. "Now you are hearing the shattering of the last vestiges of that rice bowl."

In Liaoyang, where four xiagang were arrested for organizing workers, a center of the protest is found in a tiny alley lined with by dormitories of the now defunct Ferro Alloy plant. There, on March 5, behind a stand of apples and mandarin oranges, workers posted four tabloid-sized white sheets.

The first is a letter to Chinese President Jiang Zemin, signed by "The workers of the bankrupt Ferro Alloy plant." The second is a letter to the provincial government of the Province of Liaoyang. The third is an open letter to city residents that begins sarcastically, "People of Liaoyang, did you have a good lunar new year?" (China's new year is in February.) The fourth is a lengthy and detailed list of the violations by Ferro Alloy leaders of their responsibility to the workers, including buyouts that were far too low. (Twenty years in the Ferro Alloy plant yielded just over $2,000.)

In colorful language, the workers describe the "infestations of decay of factory leaders.... They are corrupt worms."

The sheets are still there, indicating for whatever reason - sympathy or fear of more unrest - that police have not yet decided to remove them. Next to the sheets is a large pink poster calling on the workers to gather at the factory gate.

The leader of the Liaoyang Ferro Alloy workers, Yao Fuxin, disappeared into a police van last week. Police nabbed three other organizers from the middle of a crowd two days later. Mr. Yao's wife says that the Ferro Alloy workers have decided not to protest today but that they would return to the streets tomorrow if the four men are not released.

Worker protests in China often coincide with the meeting of the relatively toothless "People's Congress" in Beijing - where party-appointed representatives of China's districts meet for a national discussion. They also tend to rise at the end of the winter, often bitter in the northeast - a time when workers pay their heating bills.

In Liaoyang, the xiagang protests were also sparked by a former city leader's televised comments during the People's Congress that in Liaoyang there were "no unemployed."

Protests in Daqing are significant because, under Mao, the city was China's top model of heroic industrialization. "In industry, learn from Daqing," was a famous slogan. Amid harsh conditions, workers carved out China's first oil field, which kept the country heated and self-sufficient until the 1980s. During the Cultural Revolution, movies extolled Daqing, a name that was given to the city in 1969, meaning "big celebration."

But many observers doubt that the workers' restiveness will lead to an organized or independent movement. Party political officials have proven adept, as in Fushun, at quieting passions with a variety of monetary compensations. Party security officials show that they can easily nab any grass-roots leader who stands out by taking an independent course of action.


TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs; Front Page News; Government; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: chinastuff; clashofcivilizatio; growingpains; zanupf

1 posted on 03/24/2002 1:51:37 PM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: GeronL
Bump!
2 posted on 03/24/2002 1:56:16 PM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: *China stuff;*China_stuff;*Clash of Civilizatio
index bump
3 posted on 03/24/2002 1:56:23 PM PST by Fish out of Water
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
And China's positive economic growth stats may be as cooked as Enron's books.

I question whether China is in much better shape than the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe five years before the collapse of either.

4 posted on 03/24/2002 2:01:58 PM PST by John H K
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To: John H K
It's good to see discontent and the beginnings of an awakening as people learn what it's like to pay their own bills.
Next more and more will be learning how to run profitable small businesses, etc, etc, etc. It's moving in the right direction.
5 posted on 03/24/2002 2:08:53 PM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
Re #1

This dislocation of hundreds of millions of surplus labors will compel Chinese regime to enter foreign adventure such as political and military attacks of Taiwan or incursion into India to help Pakistan from Indian wrath. It can even stage terrorist bombing of Beijing landmarks. Both domestic and foreign enemies come in handy when a regime is in trouble. If any of these backfires, it could be the end of Chinese regime. China has a history of massive violent peasant rebellions. Millions of men, who have nothing to lose, rampaged countryside like locust clouds. Chinese regime will be busy for at least several years. If China makes any moves in international arena during this period, the domestic factor has to be taken into account to understand their intention as well as international relations.

6 posted on 03/24/2002 2:12:43 PM PST by TigerLikesRooster
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
I can't believe these ChiCom peasants have the audacity to want a union ... another example of greedy, lazy workers!!
7 posted on 03/24/2002 2:16:55 PM PST by CIBvet
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
Always pleasent to see unrest in the peoples worker paradise. Hopefully it gets much much worse over there before it gets better.
8 posted on 03/24/2002 2:28:19 PM PST by Joe Boucher
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To: Joe Boucher
Re #8

You have such a sense of humor :).

9 posted on 03/24/2002 2:31:05 PM PST by TigerLikesRooster
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To: TigerLikesRooster
Stirring everyone up is always a good way to patch any crack in their communist regime.

Derbyshire: SORRY STATE (Communist, Nationalist, and Dangerous)-- ****This psychopathological aspect of Chinese nationalism was on display in the Hainan affair. Chinese e-mail forums buzzed with demands for the captured U.S. servicemen to be beaten, or sentenced to life imprisonment. Years of relentless propaganda about historical grievances, real and imagined, and the need to restore ancient glories, have created a febrile atmosphere of hyperpatriotic agitation to which it is hard to think of any Western parallel other than the banal and obvious ones of early-20th century fascism. ...............And the third stumbling block to the restoration of China's greatness is…….the United States. To the modern Chinese way of thinking, China's proper sphere of influence encompasses all of East Asia and the western Pacific. This does not mean that they necessarily want to invade and subjugate all the nations of that region, though they certainly do want to do just that to Taiwan and some groups of smaller islands. For Japan, Korea, the Philippines, Micronesia, etc., the old imperial-suzerainty model would do well enough, at least in the short term. These places could conduct their own internal affairs, so long as they acknowledged the overlordship of Beijing, and, above all, did not enter into alliances, nor even close friendships, with other powers.

Which, of course, too many of them have done, the competitor power in every case being the U.S. It is impossible to overstate how angry it makes the Chinese to think about all those American troops in Japan, Korea, and Guam, together with the U.S. Seventh Fleet steaming up and down in "Chinese" waters, and electronic reconnaissance planes like the EP-3 brought down on April 1 operating within listening distance of the mainland. If you tackle Chinese people on this, they usually say: "How would you feel if there were Chinese troops in Mexico and Jamaica, and Chinese planes flying up and down your coasts?" Leaving aside the fact that front companies for the Beijing regime now control both ends of the Panama Canal, as well as Freeport in the Bahamas, the answer is that the United States is a democracy of free people, whose government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed, so that the wider America's influence spreads, the better for humanity: while China is a corrupt, brutish, and lawless despotism, the close containment of which is a pressing interest for the whole human race. One cannot, of course, expect Chinese people to be very receptive to this answer.

Or, indeed, to anything much we have to say on the subject of their increasing militant and assertive nationalism. We simply have no leverage here. It is no use trying to pretend that this is the face-saving ideology of a small leadership group, forced on an unwilling populace at gunpoint. The Chinese people respond eagerly to these ultra-nationalist appeals: That is precisely why the leadership makes them. Resentment of the U.S., and a determination to enforce Chinese hegemony in Asia, are well-nigh universal among modern mainland Chinese. These emotions trump any desire for constitutional government, however much people dislike the current regime for its corruption and incompetence. Find a mainlander, preferably one under the age of thirty, and ask him which of the following he would prefer: for the Communists to stay in power indefinitely, unreformed, but in full control of the "three T's" (Tibet, Turkestan, Taiwan); or a democratic, constitutional government without the three T's. His answer will depress you. You can even try this unhappy little experiment with dissidents: same answer. *****

10 posted on 03/24/2002 2:32:56 PM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: Joe Boucher
Hopefully it gets much much worse over there before it gets better.

That's usually the direction things like this go.

11 posted on 03/24/2002 2:33:51 PM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: CIBvet
Bump!
12 posted on 03/24/2002 2:34:12 PM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
When I look at China's current leaders, I'm reminded of the last sentence in George Orwell's Animal Farm: "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."
13 posted on 03/24/2002 2:46:25 PM PST by Rick_Hunter
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To: maui_hawaii
ping
14 posted on 03/24/2002 2:53:56 PM PST by shaggy eel
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
Silently, illegally, like xiagang in nearby Daqing and Liaoyang, Fushun's former coal, cement, steel, and petrochemical factory employees marched to government offices, braving police and demanding living allowances they say stopped months ago. Late last week, Fushun officials dispersed the crowd by distributing about $9 to each protester.

What does China think it is? A democracy? Only in a democracy are you supposed to bribe your people with other people's money. China should have given each protester 2 cents worth of bullet. [end_sarcasm]

Paging Jesse Jackson. Paging Al Sharpton. Excellent idea here to encourage reparations for decendants of blacks. Too bad none of the people that are parties to slavery are alive today. But their DNA lives on!!!

15 posted on 03/24/2002 3:24:00 PM PST by Frohickey
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To: John H K
Wonder what the Chinese are doing with the largest trade surplus in the history of the world?
16 posted on 03/24/2002 3:27:59 PM PST by ChinaGotTheGoodsOnClinton
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To: Joe Boucher
Always pleasent to see unrest in the peoples worker paradise. Hopefully it gets much much worse over there before it gets better.

Do you (and some others in this thread) truly wish suffering on these people? Why not go all the way and say you wish all of these people would just drop dead?

17 posted on 03/24/2002 4:07:28 PM PST by Constitutionalist Conservative
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To: ChinaGotTheGoodsOnClinton
Wonder what the Chinese are doing with the largest trade surplus in the history of the world?

Contrary to the Patrick Buchanan Kollege of Economoronics, the measure of an economy is not how big of a trade surplus it can rack up.

18 posted on 03/24/2002 4:35:53 PM PST by John H K
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To: Constitutionalist Conservative
Why not go all the way and say you wish all of these people would just drop dead?

About 42,000 a day do now. Would you like more or less.

19 posted on 03/24/2002 5:13:20 PM PST by IncredibleHulk
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To: IncredibleHulk
Why not go all the way and say you wish all of these people would just drop dead?

About 42,000 a day do now. Would you like more or less.

You missed the point. I was responding to someone who clearly desired the suffering to increase.
20 posted on 03/24/2002 6:23:58 PM PST by Constitutionalist Conservative
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
"In the Mao era, people had security."

Sixty-five million dead civilians, and he calls it "security."

21 posted on 03/24/2002 6:53:49 PM PST by Bonaparte
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To: TigerLikesRooster
Both domestic and foreign enemies come in handy when a regime is in trouble.

Clinton gave Jiang a gift with the Belgrade embassy bombing.

The Hainan EP-3C incident, too, presented the beetles of Beijing with a foreign devil to wave about.

A power elite which exploits the masses--no, wait, that's those warmongering capitalist running dogs.

We have met the hegemonic main enemy and we're on first.

22 posted on 03/24/2002 7:10:42 PM PST by PhilDragoo
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
interesting
23 posted on 03/24/2002 8:10:06 PM PST by GeronL
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To: Constitutionalist Conservative
Actually what I'd like to see is for Pakistan and India to go toe to toe and drag China in to the fray and then kick the hell out of each other.
24 posted on 03/25/2002 1:19:19 AM PST by Joe Boucher
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To: Constitutionalist Conservative
[" Always pleasent to see unrest in the peoples worker paradise. Hopefully it gets much much worse over there before it gets better."]

Do you (and some others in this thread) truly wish suffering on these people? Why not go all the way and say you wish all of these people would just drop dead?

If unrest brings about freedoms, then yes suffering will be part of that transition. What!? You prefer they stay in chains because it's easier? Odd.

25 posted on 03/25/2002 3:43:12 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
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To: Cincinatus' Wife
If unrest brings about freedoms, then yes suffering will be part of that transition. What!? You prefer they stay in chains because it's easier? Odd.

Awwww, c'mon! How can I say this more clearly? The issue is not about the reality of suffering in China, or about the pain that is accompanying China's transition to a new economic system.

In post #8, Joe clearly wished increased pain and suffering on the Chinese people. Judging from Joe's later comment in #24, he does not appear to care whether or not China makes the transition successfully; he just wants them to suffer. Am I the only one in this thread who finds that attitude to be appalling?

26 posted on 03/25/2002 6:33:23 AM PST by Constitutionalist Conservative
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To: Constitutionalist Conservative
You are correct.
27 posted on 03/25/2002 8:56:47 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
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