19 March, 2002
Yao Fuxin has led the Liaoyang Ferroalloy Factory workers in a long struggle to secure their legal rights. On the morning of 17 March, he was picked up by plain clothes policemen less than a kilometre from his home. His daughter told China Labour Bulletin (CLB) that his family members had been to the Liaoyang Public Security Bureau (PSB) to inquire about his whereabouts but were told that the PSB had not detained anyone.
Yao Fuxin is 54 years old. His wife was an employee of the Ferroalloy Factory who became unemployed when the factory went bankrupt. Ever since the factory management decided to file for bankruptcy four years ago, Yao Fuxin has led the Ferroalloy workers in a fight against the decision.
According to information obtained from the Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China, Yao Fuxin played a leading role in organising an independent inquiry by Ferroalloy Factory workers into the company accounts last year. However, the factory directors, acting in collusion with local government, declared the enterprise bankrupt, rendering more than 4,000 workers unemployed. Employees were left not only without fair compensation, but also owed a full year's wages.
Workers from the Ferroalloy plant have told CLB that Yao Fuxin also led them in petitions for the past year. The petitions have been presented to both the Liaoyang City government, the Liaoning provincial government and finally to the central government in Beijing. Their petitions were consistently ignored. On March 11 and 12 this year, Yao Fuxin led 2,000 workers from the Ferroalloy factory along with a further 15,000 workers from five other factories in Liaoyang in a demonstration in front of government offices. They were calling for the government to allow them a basic livelihood. The workers carried banners and shouted slogans calling for the resignation of the chairperson of the Liaoyang People's Congress. Since the People's Congress had failed to represent workers in effectively supervising the government, its chairperson should therefore resign. Taking part in the two-day protests on March 11 and 12 were workers from the Liaoyang Textile Factory, Liaoyang Piston Factory, Liaoyang Instruments Factory, Liaoyang Leather Factory, Liaoyang Precision Tool Factory.
Workers have told CLB that on hearing the news of Yao Fuxin's secret detention, over 40,000 workers from more than 20 factories poured onto the streets on the morning of 18 March. They demanded that Yao be immediately released. Workers came from the Ferroalloy Factory, the Textile Factory, the Piston Factory, the Instruments Factory, the Leather Factory, the Precision Tool Factory, the Cardboard Factory, the Printing Factory, the Liquefied Gas Canning Factory, the Pressing and Forging Factory, Shoushan Machinery Factory, and Qingyang Petrochemicals Factory and others.
According to the workers, since the secret detention of Yao Fuxin, representatives are now being given round-the-clock protection by their fellow workers to try and prevent further secret arrests.
Workers have also said that they do not want to give the government an excuse to make further arrests or resort to armed oppression. As such, although the government has at no point answered the workers' demands, they have still refrained from blocking the railway lines. Now that the government has started to secretly detain workers' leaders, the workers will not only continue their street protests, but are considering blocking the railway lines as well; at least until the government releases the leaders and addresses the livelihood problems.
CLB believes that the Liaoyang government's secret detention of workers' leaders is despicable and unacceptable behaviour. Their actions do not only destroy any vestige of trust by the people but also lay the groundwork for future trouble. Worse, it leaves the workers with no option but to take tougher measures. We believe that the responsibility for the current tense situation lies entirely with the government, which has forced the workers into a corner. If they now resort to further violent repression, it will only serve to make matters worse. The government created this situation and must therefore take steps to solve it. Firstly they should release Yao Fuxin in a gesture of good faith in reconciling the confrontation.
CLB has repeatedly telephoned both the Liaoyang Federation of Trade Unions (LFTU) and the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) in the hope that the organisation will get involved and represent workers in negotiations with the government. We hoped they would assist in obtaining the release of the secretly detained workers and calm the situation. Regrettably, the LFTU has said that it has no way of intervening and the Complaints Department of the ACFTU has said that CLB does not represent the interests of the workers. Moreover, the ACFTU claims that because the tens of thousands of workers involved have not gathered at the union offices, all they can do is report the information to their leaders and not take any concrete steps. The cadre responsible for the Complaints Department said that no matter what the circumstances, taking to the streets to demonstrate was a wrong.
CLB demands that the Liaoyang government immediately release Yao Fuxin and respect its promise not to arrest workers leaders. We also demand that the government begin negotiations with the workers' representatives over the issue of livelihood. Addressing these issues is the only way leading to the fundamental solution of the problem.
CLB reminds the ACFTU if it does not change, as quickly as possible, from operating as a command economy trade union that is incapable of taking any action against the increasing and serious infringements of workers' rights, it will inevitably be totally spurned by workers.
China Labour Bulletin
19 March, 2002