Jasic not an isolated case: rare spike in arrests and violent police intervention to dissolve worker protests across China

The harsh police response to the ongoing Jasic Technology workers’ campaign in Shenzhen seems to coincide with a recent surge in swift police intervention to dissolve workers’ collective actions in the past month, and this new phenomenon is not geographically confined to Shenzhen or Guangdong province.

Between July and August 2018, CLB’s Strike Map recorded 12 cases of police intervention out of 279 workers’ collective actions; meanwhile, between January and June, police intervened in a total of 17 cases out of 907. Arrests quickly spiked from 1.8% in six months -or at an average of 0.3% per month- to 4.3% in just one month.

As pointed out in China Labour Bulletin’s 2015-2017 Workers’ Movement Report, published last month, police intervention and particularly the use of force against workers followed by arrests, has traditionally remained low across industrial sectors and provinces. One could in fact argue that police are dispatched to break up workers’ protests only as a last resort.

As illustrated by the Yunyu jewelry and Nanling Toy factory beatings and arrests highlighted below, workers who sought to resolve their grievances within the institutional framework only resorted to public protests when the local authorities failed to help them recover their unpaid wages. Public protests could be avoided in the first place if workers were not owed wages, and if the union played its duty at representing workers at the bargaining table before business owners packed up and left.

Toy factory workers demanding compensation arrested in Shenzhen

More than a hundred workers gathered in front of Nanling toy factory in Shenzhen to protest its sudden closure and unpaid wages on 29 August. Workers reported having sought help from the municipal government to find a solution to their case, and instead had the local police knock on their doors to warn them against exposing their grievances publicly, some of them were reportedly physically abused.

After two months of not being paid, many workers were struggling to cover fixed monthly expenses and children's school fees. Employees who spent years working at the toy factory were angered by the fact that they were offered no compensation at all for their loyalty. Some are suffering from chronic health issues due to long-term exposure to noxious chemicals at the factory floor.

The Hong Kong owned Nanling Toy Company was one of the first factories to set foot in Shenzhen in 1992. During its heyday, Nanling employed over 4,000 staff manufacturing toys sold on the shelves of international retailers under a number of different familiar brands. However, the company has been faced with declining demand and rising costs in recent years, which ultimately led to its closure.

Workers protesting unpaid wages beaten up by police in Lijiang

On 4 August, more than 60 workers employed by Yunyu, a jewelry company, held a demonstration protesting wage arrears in Lijiang, in the southwestern province of Yunnan. Workers desperate to recover their wages kneeled down at the Red Sun Square and police were quick to intervene. Videos online show police beating up protestors. In a statement, Lijiang Police accused the Yunyu workers of illegal assembly and urged protestors to abide by the law.

Workers claim they have not been paid for four months and that the company closed down in early July. As the bankrupt company started moving out assets, over 200 staff went to the offices of the local labour department for help, and waited there for four days only to learn that the officials were not able to provide any substantial support. As options seemed to run out, desperate workers decided to stage a public protest.

Local authorities responded by sending police in riot gear to disperse the protest. Several workers were heavily beaten and taken to the police station. Workers’ phones were confiscated, apparently to prevent videos of the violent police intervention from being shared on social media. Yunyu workers have started questioning the effectiveness of existing institutional channels which supposedly safeguard their rights.

 

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