MAC: Mines and Communities

Local police and security guards break up peaceful workers' protests

Published by MAC on 2007-08-16

Local police and security guards break up peaceful workers' protests

China :Labour Bulletin

16th August 2007

In two separate incidents over the last week, local riot police and security guards have been used to break up peaceful workers' protests.

About eight o'clock in the morning on 15 August, striking miners at the Tanjiashan Coal Mine in Hubei Province were suddenly surrounded by more than 200 part-time security guards hired by management to break the strike. According to a report by Radio Free Asia, the security guards set about the workers and in the ensuing clash at least one worker and one security guard died.

The conflict lasted about two hours, during which time the workers vented their anger by attacking company offices and two nearby police vehicles they believed had been used to transport management's hired security guards to the mine.

One of the strikers told Radio Free Asia on the evening of 15 August that another hundred or so people were gathering around the perimeter of the mine, and the miners feared that another attack intended to drive them off the premises was imminent.

The 800 miners had been on strike for six days after they discovered that 360 million yuan allocated by the central government for the workers' redundancy payments as part of the mine's privatization plan had allegedly been appropriated by mine's board of directors.

The previous week, more than one hundred riot police broke up a long running workers' protest outside the offices of the Qingyang Municipal Transport Company in Gansu Province. The workers had been protesting at the company offices since January after the transport company (previously the largest state owned enterprise in Qingyang) was privatized and sold off to property developer in the neighbouring province of Shaanxi. All the workers were laid off without any social security or unemployment benefits.

According to the Boxun news agency, on the morning of 7 August, local riot police cordoned off the company offices, preventing anyone from entering or leaving the premises. The police detained eight of the workers' leaders, later placing them under house arrest, and proceeded to beat up the remaining protestors. One female protestor was badly beaten by the police and a male worker's hand was broken.

China Labour Bulletin has noted that it is becoming increasingly common for management and local government to respond with violence to peaceful workers' protests. Some company owners hire gangs of local thugs to do their dirty work, while those with influence in local government can often rely on the police to break up protests or strikes that threaten their interests.

Such actions clearly demonstrate the serious imbalance of power in China between workers on the one hand and management, often in collusion with local government, on the other. And CLB once again urges the central government to address that imbalance by giving workers the freedom to form their own democratic and independent trade unions, and the legal right to strike, so that workers can begin to protect their own interests.

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