(Originally published in CLB Issue #52, Jan-Feb 2000)
Coal mining in China is in crisis. The industry is plagued by over-production, falling prices, corruption, illegal mines and declining safety conditions. Official figures claim there are fewer than 10,000 mining deaths a year. The real figure is more likely to be closer to 20,000.
In 1999, by clamping down on illegal small-scale mines, the Chinese government tried to reduce overall production by 250 million metric tonnes. Despite claiming to have closed as many as 25,000 mines, it appears that production is still at over one billion tonnes and coal prices are still falling.
One official article, translated on this page ("Locate the Disease and Dispense the Medicine") pinpoints the involvement of local cadres in mine ownership as being a major part of the problem around small-scale mining in China. At the same time the big "key" pits are in trouble, often as a result of competition from the smaller mines.
We also reprint discussions with miners, party members, the police and an ACFTU official, picking up where CLB issue #51 left off. Lacking in this snapshot picture of the mining industry are real unions. It is doubtful whether any real improvement in working conditions, or the state of the industry in general, will materialise until the government allows miners to organise.
This feature is divided into six sections:
(1) Background of the Coal Mining Industry
(2) Miners' Strike in Hebei: A Follow-Up
(3) How Does It Feel? Interview with a Daughter of a Xiahuayuan Miner
(4) Reactions From Four Workers
(5) From a Party Cadre
(6) Locate the Illness and Dispense the Medicine