Chinese Workers Protest Layoffs


Since China, unlike Russia and Eastern Europe, is still a predominately rural country, the effects of the ruling bureaucracy’s turn toward restoring capitalism have not been so obvious. But for the industrial sector, they are basically the same.

The first effect is massive layoffs of workers in the big industries built up under the nationalized economy and the failure to pay workers still formally employed in these combines.

Important sectors of workers have begun to mobilize to fight this process. Now even the international capitalist press, which has been hailing the process of capitalist restoration in China as exemplary, has had to recognize that the bureacracy is facing serious problems.

Thus, the Far Eastern Economic Review, the leading capitalist business magazine for the region, had to report in its April 4 issue: “Since March 1, tens of thousands have poured out of grubby low-rise factory housing and onto the streets of Daqing in freezing temperatures to protest, angry that promises of pensions and medical care made during their working years have now been watered down by management.

“Similar protests rocked the city of Liaoyang in adjacent Liaoning province, and there have been other reports of scattered industrial unrest around the country this month.”

On March 8, the Chinese minister of the economy, Li Rongrong, announced in Beijing that 25 million workers had been laid off from state companies. The Far Eastern Economic Review noted that these layoffs had provoked “tens of thousands” of “disputes.” It pointed out that the unemployment rate in many cities in the northeast of China, where Daqing is located, is now 40 percent.

Daqing is the center of the oldest Chinese oil fields and its development was the first major success of the Chinese Communist Party government in creating an industrial base.

Under the regime that came out of the Chinese revolution, Daqing and its workforce were held up as a model for the country’s working class. Now this area, logically enough, has become the center of the working-class resistance to the effects of capitalist restoration.

The South China Morning Star, published in Hong Kong, reported in its March 18 issue that up to 50,000 workers had been mobilizing daily in Daqing for two weeks to protest layoffs without unemployment benefits.

In Liaoyang, 5000 workers demonstrated at the municipal government center, calling for the ouster of the local legislature for its failure to defend their rights. On March 18, 30,000 workers from 20 different factories rallied. They demanded the release of one of their leaders, Yao Fuxin, a laid-off worker from a bankrupt industrial plant, who had been taken away by police.

The South China Morning Star reported that one of the workers involved told Reuters that Yao was “a representative chosen by workers to speak with the government about our unpaid wages. Some of us have not been paid for 24 months.”

Meanwhile, last month, some 10,000 coal miners in the town of Fushun, also in Liaoning province, blocked highways and railroad tracks to protest inadequate severance packages, according to the March 19 New York Times. And textile workers are striking in the western province of Sichuan, charging that state managers are selling off their factory’s assets rather than trying to save it.

The Far Eastern Economic Review expressed confidence that the Chinese government would be able to isolate the workers’ protests by repression.

It is true that the size of the country and the lack of communications among its various parts has been a barrier to the spread of opposition movements. This was an important factor in the isolation of the 1989 Tien An-Minh student demonstrations.

However, industrial workers must have interregional links because of the very nature of industry. The Far Eastern Economic Review quoted a Harbin worker as saying that “they [the ruling bureaucracy] are most afraid of the workers.”

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[Editor’s note: We reprint this article by the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM). In 1989, the Bastille Appeal was launched, inviting popular movements throughout the world to unite in demanding the immediate and unconditional cancellation of the debt of the so-called developing countries. This crushing debt, along with neo-liberal macro-economic reforms imposed on the global South, has led to an explosion of worldwide inequality, mass poverty, flagrant injustice and the destruction of the environment.