March 6, 2002
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. The demonstrating workers shouted the slogans, We wont be tricked again!, We want work!, and Persevere til victory! 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.
The official Daqing PAB trade union cadre told CLB that ever since those workers signed their retrenchment agreements, they werent considered workers anymore and therefore cant organise into the union. As well, the PAB party committee only allowed union cadres to meet the different parties to understand the workers situation, we were not instructed to get involved so the union has no role to play.
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, March 5, 2002)
Workers in Daqing, however, are taking their own stand. Around 9am this morning (March 6 , 2002), around 40,000 protested at the Daqing PAB office again.
China Labour Bulletin appeals to the ACFTU:
According to Article 2 of the Trade Union Law, trade unions are mass organizations formed by the working class of their own free will. Article 3 states that workers have the right to organize or join trade unions according to law. No organizations or individuals shall obstruct or restrict them. Article 6 stipulates that the basic duties and functions of trade unions are to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of workers and staff members.
The retrenched workers, as part of the workforce at Daqing PAB, are struggling for their rights, and have already organized through legal means the Daqing PAB Retrenched Workers' Provisional Union Committee (referred to Provisional Union in the following text) with elected representatives. The ACFTU and its affiliate, the Heilongjiang province FTU and the Daqing PAB trade union, should co-operate with the Provisional Union to resolve the problems. this situation. The ACFTU should not treat the Provisional Union as an illegal organisation, and should not in any way assist the local government to persecute or suppress the Provisional Union.
China Labour Bulletin and the international labour movement will carefully follow the development of the Provisional Union.
The Daqing workers and workers in any other industries, be it petroleum, textile, metal works or auto industry, are faced with the same conditions. We have all experienced, each to a different extent, the damages caused by the SOE reforms. We believe that the Daqing workers, in organising from the shopfloor and legally fighting for their rights, are demonstrating a legal channel for future workers struggle in China. As China plunges into a market economy, it is completely natural for workers to organise themselves to guarantee their interests as do workers in market economies the world over. Moreover, workers organising is legally protected under the Trade Union Law.
China Labour Bulletin appeals to the Chinese Central Government, the Heilongjiang Provincial Government and the Daqing City Government:
- Respect the freedom of association enshrined in the constitution of the Peoples Republic of China; respect the right of workers to organise trade unions by their own free will as protected by the Trade Union Law; do not impose any political or economic persecution on the leadership or the rank and file of the Provisional Union.
- Recognise the Provisional Union that represents the 80,000 retrenched workers and enter into negotiations with the Provisional Union to address their demands.
- China Labour Bulletin has long put forth that workers in China have very little and sometimes no recourse in facing the losses forced upon the state workers from economic reforms. We do not have a trade union that can represent our members and guarantee our interests. The Daqing PAB retrenchment agreement was not negotiated with the workers; it was forced upon them by enterprise management and the local government. The only choice left to the Daqing workers was to accept or reject the agreement. China Labour Bulletin calls for the workers right to democratically-elected trade unions and workers congresses. It is only through these democratically-elected bodies and their involvement in SOE reforms that the workers can effectively limit to the greatest extent the injustice they are facing.
- Chinas economy was built upon the sweat and toil of tens of thousands of Daqing workers who left their families and fought on the oil front to bring China out of oil shortage. The government, with no qualification whatsoever, should make sure that Daqing workers and others live a decent life when they get old, sick and weak.
March 6, 2002