Workers Strike Against Xiangyang Car Bearing Company in Xiangyang, Hubei

20:35 Nov 18 2003 Xiāngyáng qū, Xiangcheng District, Xiangyang City, Hubei, China

From CLB:

On 18 and 19 November 2003, about 10,000 workers from the Xiangyang Automobile Bearing Company Ltd, Xiangfan City, blocked roads and railway lines across the city in a large-scale protest action aimed at pressuring the government to guarantee the lawful rights and interests of workers during the privatization of the former state-owned company, a process that will entail job losses for many of them. The two-day protest action paralyzed traffic throughout the city and led to a violent confrontation between the workers and the police. Several injuries were reported on both sides. In addition, the main railway line out of Xiangfan remained blocked for two whole days. On 20 November, the Hubei provincial governor and vice-governor went in person to the company to negotiate with the striking workers, but no satisfactory agreement was reached. Although the workers suspended their street demonstrations, all production at the factory remained suspended.

On 19 November, the city government held a closed-door meeting to discuss the crisis. On the public entrance to the building was pasted a “Proclamation” from the municipal public security bureau, listing the names of nine male workers and one female worker from the auto bearing factory whom the police had identified as being “criminal suspects” for their alleged role in leading the workers’ protest. The police proclamation ordered all ten workers to report to the criminal investigation section of the local public security bureau within two days.

(Those listed were: Yi Wenfa, Xiao Lihan, Jia Jie (female), Li Qianli, Zhuang Luo, Chen Mingchang, Li Hongming, Liang Yuanlin, Wu Fasheng and Zhang Ming.) According to reliable information received by CLB, all ten workers duly reported to the police station, where they were interviewed for several hours and were then allowed to return home. No arrests have as yet been made, but the official description of the ten workers as “criminal suspects” means that the police are now free to formally detain them at any time.

The Xiangfan workers’ protest was provoked by a combination of the job retrenchment policies carried out by management during the factory’s economic restructuring, and a simultaneous move by the government to privatize local housing. The maximum job-severance compensation standard set by the government is reportedly only 914 Yuan for each year of service, a low figure even by Chinese standards. At the same time, a new housing policy has been introduced that effectively privatizes the workers’ housing quarters. The government’s aim has been to sell to the worker’s families their current homes (which average around 50 square metres in size) for a ‘market price’ of 688 Yuan per square metre.

In effect, this would mean that a couple who had worked at the Xiangyang Automobile Bearing Company for 20 years would receive a combined compensation sum of around 30,000 Yuan after their retrenchment from the factory, but the same couple would then need to pay out around 35,000 Yuan in order to remain in their home. Many of the workers regarded this as a thinly disguised ruse by the government and remained sceptical of the benefits of buying their homes, most of which are 20 to 30 years old and had been built by the workers themselves.

In addition, workers told CLB that the factory currently owes them as much as 3-4 years’ worth of unpaid wages, social security benefits and housing subsidies, and they are deeply concerned that when their jobs are axed as part of the factory’s privatization, their legal entitlement to all these funds will simply disappear in the process. While several workers said that they supported China’s economic reforms and the restructuring of state owned enterprises, one worker told CLB: “We are fighting for our survival”.

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