Detained labour activist Meng Han unbowed and unrepentant

Detained labour activist Meng Han has voiced his support for the director of the Panyu Workers’ Centre, Zeng Feiyang, and called on other labour activists to maintain solidarity in the face of the current crackdown on civil society labour organizations.

Meng, who like Zeng is accused of “gathering a crowd to disrupt social order,” told his lawyers that he had refused to cooperate with the police in their investigation into Zeng in return for a lighter sentence.

“I respect Zeng Feiyang very much”, he told his lawyers. Meng said he and other staff at the Panyu Centre had done nothing wrong and that their work simply involved helping workers become better organised; coaching them how to engage in collective bargaining with management, in accordance with Chinese law.

Meng Han in 2014. Photograph CLB.

Both men have been held in Guangzhou’s No.1 Detention Centre for more than three months but only Meng has been able to see his lawyers. Meng met his lawyers Yan Xin and Qin Chenshou on two separate occasions and both lawyers subsequently posted their accounts of the meetings on social media.

The authorities have consistently barred Zeng Feiyang’s lawyer from seeing his client. Zeng has been the target of a vicious smear campaign in China’s state-run media but Meng expressed confidence that workers would not be swayed by such propaganda and would seek the truth themselves.

In his meetings with his lawyers, Meng reiterated that the main culprit in the Lide shoe factory dispute, which led to his detention, was the factory management, which had routinely violated labour law and failed to abide by a collective agreement negotiated with the workers.

Meng also blamed the inaction of the local government and the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) for not effectively engaging in labour disputes:

The police accused us of trying to change the ACFTU. Well, has this so-called trade union fulfilled its responsibilities? Of course not! Instead of solving problems, they just turn up for the show. By coaching the workers and helping them to defend their rights we were doing a job that the government could not do. The trade union should be of the workers and for the workers, not an organ to protect the interests of the bosses.

Meng is a veteran labour activist who spent nine months in prison two years ago after leading a group of security guards at a Guangzhou hospital in a long running dispute with management over employment contracts and social insurance that culminated in a roof-top protest in August 2013.

He was also briefly detained during the Lide shoe factory dispute but was supported by and eventually rescued by the Lide workers. He told his lawyers: “I really appreciate those who have stood up for me. Workers are honest people, and when a good man gets arrested, of course they will go and offer help.”

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