Labour activist Wu Guijun detained for one year: China’s workers more determined than ever

Workers’ representative Wu Guijun was formally detained by the Shenzhen authorities one year ago today (23 May) after taking part in a demonstration, with several hundred other employees at Hong Kong-owned furniture maker Diweixin, in protest at their employer’s refusal to discuss compensation for the planned closure and relocation of the factory.

His arrest and on-going trial for “gathering a crowd and disturbing the order of public transportation,” an offence which carries a prison term of up to five years, was perhaps intended to deter other workers from taking a stand and defending their rights; if so, it had the opposite effect.

It is obvious from the huge number of strikes and protests this year that China’s workers are not afraid to confront their employer if their rights have been violated or the boss refuses to address their grievances. Moreover, detaining workers’ representatives and labour activists just makes them more determined to continue the struggle.

When Meng Han, the leader of the 12 Guangzhou hospital security guards jailed for staging a rooftop protest in August 2013 was released from nine months’ detention on 18 May he declared: “I will continue to stand up for workers’ rights. The government has to stop abusing the power of the state against workers. I am prepared and ready to make sacrifices on this journey.”

Lin Dong, who was arrested in April after helping striking workers at the Yue Yuen shoe factory, was released 30 days later on 21 May. He was back at work at the Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service Centre the next day. He was in high spirits and stressed that his resolve to defend workers’ rights had never wavered.

After Cai Manji, a workers’ representative at a jewellery factory in Guangzhou’s Panyu district, was detained by the police for a month in 2012 he continued to push the workers’ demands for social security payments at the factory. He now works as a labour organizer in factories in the Pearl River Delta.

Lin, Cai and Meng all received strong support from their co-workers, families and members of the public during their detention, and this was the key to their resolve. But perhaps the strongest support of all has been reserved for Wu Guijun. Throughout his detention, there have been continual calls for his release, and dozens of supporters have turned up to all three hearings in his trial. And they have not just turned up. As the Financial Times reported:

On the afternoon of February 17, Wu Guijun’s supporters erupted in anger when told his trial’s opening session had been cancelled. They harangued the judge, who had informed Mr Wu’s lawyers that the prosecutor was unavailable. Dozens more marched to the court’s administrative office to demand that Mr Wu, accused of leading a labour protest that allegedly “disturbed public order”, be allowed his day in court.

Wu Guijun's son (left) holds up a poster calling for his father to come home for the Mid-Autumn Festival. Photograph of Wu Guijun (right) during his trial in Shenzhen

The harassment and detention of worker activists serves no purpose except to further alienate the government from the people. The Chinese government needs to allow workers to push for better pay and working conditions through collective bargaining and not punish them simply because their boss refuses to negotiate.

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