The statement below comes form the International Metalworkers Federation and reports on the use of global worker campaigns to help secure the release of imprisoned Chinese workers. The release of Di Tiangui comes after one years detention without proper charge or trial. It is believed that he has been told that his detention equates to a one year assignment of re-education through labour (an administrative punishment which allows for people including many dissidents and work activists to be detained for up to three years without criminal charges or a trial).
International solidarity campaigns in favour of Chinese labour activists can produce a positive outcome.
The recent release after one year's imprisonment of metalworker activist Di Tiangui gives encouragement for international trade union campaigns in favour of basic workers' rights in China.
Di, a retired metalworker from an engineering plant in Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, was arrested in June 2002 after writing a letter to the then Chinese President Jian Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji requesting the government allow an independent alliance of retired workers from state-owned enterprises. For having organised these retirees to press for their pension and welfare benefits, Di was charged with "subversion of state", a crime which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment or execution. It was reported that during his detention he was shackled and beaten, requiring hospitalisation on three occasions.
Over the years, the IMF and a number of other trade union organisations have been campaigning for basic workers' rights in China, which has the sad reputation of having more labour activists in prison than any other country in the world, and widespread violations of internationally recognised labour rights.
The IMF-affiliated United Auto Workers has such an ongoing campaign and says that the release of Di represents "a big win and shows how international solidarity can make a difference in the lives of workers around the world."
However, much more needs to be done. Amongst many other examples, independent metalworker activists Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang were sentenced in May 2003 to long and harsh prison terms for their part in a peaceful workers' protest over unpaid wages and benefits. Both men, who are in extremely poor health, were recently transferred far from their families to a prison farm where it is thought they will be compelled to carry out forced labour.
22 August 2003 : http://www.imfmetal.org/main/index.cfm?n=47&l=2&c=8253