China Labour Bulletin (CLB) has received reports that over 50,000 workers from the Daqing Oilfield have been staging mass street demonstrations since 1 March, 2002, to protest against their employer's unilateral breach of their retrenchment contracts. The Daqing Oilfield, in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, is one of China's key state-owned oilfields and was held up as the leading model of communist industry in Maoist era.
On 1 March, 2002, about 3,000 workers marched into the headquarters of Daqing Petroleum Administration Bureau (PAB) to protest against the bureau's breaking of the agreement on the terms of retrenchment. By 4 March, the protesters had increased to over 50,000. According to a local government official, the entire PAB office has been under siege. A local railway worker has reported that train services have been interrupted.
When CLB called up the local authorities to find out more about the incident, a local official gave an account of his wife's experience as an illustration of the workers' grievances. Under the original retrenchment agreement, the workers would continue to receive support from the Daqing PAB, such as heating subsidies of RMB 3,000 a year during the winter. However, after the Chinese New Year (12 February, 2002), the workers were told that they would no longer receive any winter heating subsidies. In addition, each retrenched worker was required to pay 2,600 yuan a year into their social security fund. However, this increased to 3,600 yuan last year and yet again to 4,600 yuan this year.
According to this official, workers from the Xinjiang, Shengli (close to Shandong Province) and Liaohe (Liaoning Province) Oilfields staged solidarity demonstrations when they heard about the Daqing workers' struggle. Most significantly, the workers have set up their own union, the Daqing PAB Retrenched Workers' Provisional Union Committee, and elected representatives.
The local authorities responded by sending para-military police, and deploying a PLA tank regiment. The workers have stood up to fight, and they will not be threatened [by the military presence], the local official exclaimed.
When CLB asked the Heilongjiang Provincial Federation of Trade Unions for their comment on this incident, its organizing department's officials said that the workers' action, in particular organizing their own union, was unacceptable and illegal. The official stated that according to the existing constitution of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), unions can only be formed by senior level unions and not by workers themselves.
This comment fits well with the official line of the government-controlled ACFTU towards workers struggle to defend their rights - which have been under serious threat in the last twenty years of economic reforms. On March 4, ACFTU President Wei Jianxing, standing committee member of the Politburo, spoke to the social welfare and trade union delegates during the annual session of the CPPCC:
In normalizing labour relations and solving workers problems, we are in practice handling conflicts of interest. In this process, there are bound to be different opinions. The trade unions [ACFTU] have to grasp what the workers think, and educate the workers to bear the overall situation in mind and put the general interest above all, and take a correct stand in the light of adjusting interests in the economic reforms. (Xinhua News Agency, 5 March, 2002)
Workers in Daqing, however, are taking their own stand. Around 9am this morning (6 March, 2002), around 40,000 protested at the Daqing PAB office again.
(Source: China Labour Bulletin)