From 12 March onwards, every day some 20 to 30 retired workers are taking turns sitting outside the Tieshu Textile factory entrance blocking its access. Armed only with banners, the retired workers are braving the rain to remain in front of the entrance from 6:00 AM in the morning until 1:00 AM the following day. Banners strung across the factory gates say “Protest Against Corruption” and “Out with the Woodworm” [woodworm is a popular Chinese metaphor for corruption]. According to an eyewitness contacted by CLB, at the peak of the picketing, over 300 workers were gathered outside the factory entrance.
The factory, which reportedly employees about 7,000 people and has over 3,000 retired workers, is on the brink of bankruptcy. It has been ordered to declare itself bankrupt by the government and is currently working out bankruptcy and layoff procedures.
The retired workers have been protesting about the loss of their pensions and about extensive corruption since 2 January 2003 when they stopped traffic for about 2 and a half hours on the local rail line;
* One of the retired workers’ principal complaints is that they have not been paid any pension funds from the factory despite an earlier agreement that all retired workers would receive about half their pension from government funds and the remaining one third or half from factory pension funds.
*Workers are also calling on the government to investigate their allegations of corruption by officials at the factory which, they believe, has directly led to its imminent bankruptcy.
There are more than 2000 retirees at the factory who are affected by the pension cuts – most of the workers currently employed by the factory have elderly relatives affected by this crisis. One worker told CLB that in his household, where both his parents are retirees from the factory, the family will lose 400 – 500 Yuan each month – about one third of its monthly income.
CLB learned from a worker at the factory that although the retired workers have been asking for a renewed dialogue with the factory management there has not been any response from the management since the protests resumed on 12 March.
China Labour Bulletin spoke with a staff member at the factory trade union who told us – despite the above-mentioned confirmation by the factory’s security section - that the protests were a “rumour”. Yesterday, on 13 March, Mr. Ni, the president of the factory trade union, again told CLB that the events described above “did not happen”. When CLB informed him that workers and others had described in detail the events of the past 3 days, the president declined to comment.
When we reminded him that the trade union was, according to Chinese law, there to represent the workers, the president said: “no comment”.
CLB also contacted the Suizhou City branch of the ACFTU, where an official informed us that there had been a visit to the factory on or around 2 February by officials from the Hubei Provincial ACFTU, but up until now they had not received any information about the visit or follow up. CLB subsequently interviewed a senior official at the local ACFTU branch. (Workers from the Tieshu Group Restart Protests: ACFTU official caught lying: "I don't know anything about it"
In addition to the dire financial straits of the retired workers, those currently employed at the factory face similar problems. Many of the current workers and those recently retired (from about 1999 onwards) were forced, through the reform of the factory, to buy shares in their workplace - shares which they will now lose.
The factory is currently calculating how much compensation they will provide to each worker once the bankruptcy is declared. However, it is unlikely that this compensation will be adequate.
Following the mass protests in January 2003, the local Public Security Bureau declared the workers actions to be “illegal” and a “serious disruption of public order”. They asked for the leaders of the protests to turn themselves in and at the same time began a door to door man-hunt within the factory housing complex for the alleged leaders. It is not known if anyone has been detained for their part in the protest. The renewal of the Tieshu workers protests reveals both the seriousness of the situation and the strength of the workers demands.
Tieshu workers proclaimed in their banners;
Slogan banners hanging on the left-hand side of the factory gate (in red characters)
“The factory has gone bust and the workers are angry and sad.
Corruption is covered up and no one is going after the guilty officials
Calls for Justice ring out on all sides, but whom is the law actually protecting?”
Slogan banners hanging on the right-hand side of the factory gate (in yellow characters):
“Ten years ago the Tieshu Factory was flourishing – like a tree with solid roots.
We never guessed then that it was all an illusion – or that we’d be sacrificial victims.
Kindly tell the people of Suizhou: Who are these criminals who have destroyed our livelihood?”.
14 March 2003
For more news on the earlier protests at the Tieshu Textile Group please see Retired Workers Protest in Suizhou, Hubei Province