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Frustrations lead to confrontation as workers take to the streets

Frustrations with low pay, wage arrears and poor, often hazardous, working conditions led to an increase in strikes and worker protests last month.

China Labour Bulletin recorded 52 incidents on our Strike Map in October, up from 40 in the previous month. These protests sometimes spilled over into conflict with police and security forces. A police presence was reported in 15 cases, with at least nine protests leading to confrontation and arrests.

When 300 shoe factory workers in Dongguan took to the streets demanding the payment of wage arrears on 8 October, the local police used dogs to disperse the crowd and several striking workers were reportedly bitten. In another incident in Jiangsu, riot police reportedly beat and arrested numerous workers who were on their way to the local government to petition for the payment of wage arrears.

Guangdong continues to be the forefront of worker protest in China, accounting for 33 percent of the incidents recorded last month. A major factor in labour unrest in the province is the transformation and restructuring of the manufacturing industry, leading to the closure, merger or relocation of inefficient and failing businesses there. For example, more than 500 workers at a Japanese-owned electronics factory in Zhongshan staged a strike when they realised management was preparing to close the factory and sell off equipment and machinery.

There were however strikes and protests across the whole of China last month with one of the most prominent occurring in the capital Beijing on 21 October. Around 5,000 workers who had been laid-off from China’s four big state-owned banks protested outside the headquarters of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, demanding reinstatement and financial aid. Many of them had seen their standard of living decline significantly while their former co-workers had flourished. According to some reports, nearly 1,000 police were present at the protest and several workers were either beaten and or arrested.

One of the more unusual protests occurred on 28 October in the Zhejiang city of Wenling when up to 1,000 doctors and healthcare workers took to the streets to demand improved safety measures for hospital workers. The protest was sparked by the killing of a senior doctor at the No.1 People’s Hospital in Wenling. This was just one of several violent attacks on hospital staff in China in the last few months.

However, there were some positive developments for workers last month. On 10 October, a group of 96 workers at a moulding factory in Guangzhou signed a collective agreement that forced management, for the first time since the factory was set up 20 years ago, to give workers proper severance pay. The agreement followed four months of collective action and demonstrated remarkable conviction and solidarity on the part of the workers.

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