Posted September 13, 2018
Chinese workers strike far more often than workers in the U.S. do. The rapidly growing Chinese economy gives them leverage, despite fierce government repression. Censorship means that most of these strikes don’t make the media in China or in the U.S. Protests at the Jasic Technology factory have been a partial exception. Solidarity action by students in mainland China and workers in Hong Kong have helped break through the censorship.
Below is an article by Jenny Chan on worker-student solidarity in China. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Applied Social Sciences at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. It appeared on New Politics website here.
Following it is a statement by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) in solidarity with the Jasic workers. It appears on the HKCTU website here.
Shenzhen Jasic Technology: Towards a Worker-Student Coalition in China
September 8, 2018
Last month students and recent graduates from more than a dozen mainland Chinese universities stood up in solidarity support with workers of Jasic Technology, a private company listed on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange. The student activists include those from the Peking University, Tsinghua University, Nanjing University, and Sun Yat-sen University. They wore t-shirts with the slogan “unity is power” printed in bold red. They produced videos of public speeches and peaceful demonstrations in front of the Jasic factory in the Pingshan District of Shenzhen City, a key node of globalized production in South China. They tweeted open letters and blogs and photos via social media. In response, Jasic management retaliated against workers who initiated to establish a democratic union since this May and refused immediate re-instatement of dismissed workers, triggering waves of rights defense protests and social justice campaigns. As of writing, 14 workers were currently still being detained by local authorities, and 50 students were forcibly taken by the riot police, crushing the worker-student coalition.
Labor disputes in China
The conflicts between worker and management over punitive fines, wage deductions, and non-payment of social security benefits at Jasic are not an isolated case. Facing rights infringement and harsh treatment, aggrieved workers have resisted in numerous individual and collective forms. In 1982 China removed the right to strike from its constitution and the only official union organization is The All-China Federation of Trade Unions, an integral part of the government. Without the leadership of union, workers like Jasic have taken independent actions to defend their legal rights and interests.
Government statistics indicate that, in 1996, 48,121 labor disputes (including individual and collective cases) were accepted for arbitration, involving 189,120 persons nationwide. The incidence of arbitrated labor disputes, along with mounting protests, has been growing rapidly. In the global economic crisis of 2008, when millions of workers were laid off, the number of cases skyrocketed to 693,465 — nearly double from year ago, involving more than 1.2 million laborers across the country. Following a brief decline, since 2011, labor dispute cases have shot up annually, reaching an unprecedented 813,859 cases in 2015, as documented annually in the China Labour Statistical Yearbook.
In addition to filing cases through dispute resolution mechanisms, workers have sought to strengthen their associational power to better protect themselves. Jasic workers had submitted their written intent to form a union in accordance with China’s Trade Union Law. They had prepared to engage in dialogue with management.
On 1 August 2018, under the mounting pressure, Jasic executives quickly set up a union preparatory committee. From 2005 when the company was founded, Jasic, not unlike many other companies, had refused to recognize workers’ fundamental rights to unionize. On 20 August, Jasic called the first meeting to “elect” nine union committee members.
How were the elections run? Who were the union chair and committee members? Apparently the Jasic management has controlled the sociopolitical space of organizing at the workplace level.
A worker-student coalition
For nearly two months now, a core group of university students, along with tens of thousands of fellow students from all over the country, have been supporting Jasic workers in their independent struggles against the repressive regime. This young cohort was born in the 1990s and early 2000s, when China accelerated its opening to the world and privatized its industries to enhance “flexibility” of work and employment in the market.
In and through self-organized labor studies groups, internships, and waged work, the student activists understand deeper the urgent needs for more progressive legal reforms and fairer share of economic grains of direct producers. The effective use of digital media to present a united worker-student voice, despite removal and blockage of the content from internet by Chinese authorities, has drawn attention from academics and the wider public at home and abroad.
High-profile labor insurgence has impacted social awareness of the students and far beyond. In recent years, a young generation of migrant factory workers at Foxconn (Shenzhen), Honda (Foshan), and Yue Yuen (Dongguan) have staged numerous strikes and protests to attempt to democratize their respective company unions. The workers’ demand for higher wages and better benefits are among the top priorities. As capital moves from coastal Guangdong to interior provinces to tap into cheaper labor and more abundant land, conflicts over unpaid wages and benefits and arbitrary dismissals may well increase across regions.
University students share concerns about fair labor in an age of contracting and temporary work. They identify with Jasic workers that a functioning union that wins the trust and confidence of workers is a worthy effort of workers and students.
The unyielding battle for social and economic justice from the bottom-up at Jasic and other workplaces has written a new page in contemporary Chinese society.
The Hong Kong Civil Society Marches On in Support of the Jasic Workers
The Hong Kong civil society continue to support the Jasic workers and their supporters, despite the bulk of the supporters groups were arrested and detained by the Chinese Government. Some 30 representatives of the Hong Kong civil society including workers and students marched on to the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, yet again, for the second time within a month to support the Jasic labour struggle in light of the latest wave of arrests targeted, this time, on the Jasic Workers Solidarity Support Group, who were mainly made up of students. The protestors demanded the immediate release of all workers and students who were arrested, detained, and disappeared due to the Jasic labour struggle, and the rights to freedom of association for the workers. The group released the following statement which was co-signed by more than 30 civil society organizations:
Although the workers’ struggle to form a trade union in the Shenzhen Jasic Technology Co. Ltd. has persisted for more than one month, there are still no signs of resolving. Not only the workers’ demand to form a union of their own choosing within the legal framework have yet to be realized, their struggle is met with suppression from the State. Thus far, a total of 14 workers and more than 50 members of the Jasic Workers Solidarity Support Group have been arrested and are still under criminally detention. We would like to express our extreme resentment.
In the small hours of August 24, the police deployed a number of riot police to raid the residence of the Support Group in Huizhou, forcibly arrested more than 50 workers and students. Undeterred by the mass arrests on July 27, workers and students who support the struggling Jasic workers established the Jasic Workers Solidarity Support to demand for the rights to form union and the release of the arrested workers. Since then, university students from across the nation have joined together and arrived at Shenzhen to show their support in the form of speeches, cultural performances, and demonstrations. However, before the detained worker are set free, members of the Support Group are now also put behind bars.
Among the arrestees from the August 24 raid are LAN Zhi Wei, YU Kai Long, YU Wei Ye (three workers released on bail from the earlier mass arrest), YUE Xin (fresh graduate of the Peking University), ZHAN Zhen Zhen (the founder of the Campus Workers Investigation Project of the Peking University), FENG Ge (Ex-President of the Anti-poverty Association of the Peking University), and also other students from the Renmin University of China, Nanjing University who initiated the petition supporting Jasic workers. Together with Shen Mengyu and others who had been taken away since August 11, closed to 70 people are now either detained or placed under house arrest. The latest wave of suppression is the largest suppression on labour activists since the “1203 Incident” in 2015.
These workers organized themselves together because of the company’s illegal penal system, insufficient contribution of housing provident fund and other illegal labour misconducts. Initially, the Pingshan District Federation of Trade Unions recommended that they should organize their own trade unions. Thus, the workers applied for the establishment of a trade union and started to recruit members and subsequently collected consents from nearly 90 workers to form a trade union. However, the six workers’ leaders, including Mi Jiuping and Liu Penghua, were later dismissed by the company and are now detained by the police on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” for more than a month.
The All-China Federation of Trade Unions have claimed to promote trade union reform since 2015, but before any meaningful result materializes, we have witnessed workers’ rights to freedom of association are yet again, being let down by the ACFTU. The Jasic workers who applied for the establishment of a trade union under the law were eventually beaten, dismissed, arrested, imprisoned, and the students who supported them were also not spared from suppression. Here, we would like to pay tribute to the Jasic workers and their supporters who choose to fight for labour rights until the end. And despite members of the Support Groups are now arrested, we vow to carry on with the fight and continue to support the Jasic workers.
Therefore, we demand:
- The Chinese Government to immediately release the workers and supporters of the Jasic Workers Struggle and drop all charges against them;
- The ACFTU to immediately stop all efforts to suppress workers’ right to freedom of association;
- The Jasic management to reinstate all the dismissed workers and recognize the labour organization formed by the workers.
Initiated by the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions