September 15, 1999
The important Beijing-Baotou railway was blocked for approximately fifteen
hours close to the city of Zhangjiakou in Hebei province. The protest
began in the early morning of September 13 at Xiahuayuan station and involved
over 5,000 miners from the nearby Xiahuayuan state-owned coal mine.
At around 11pm, the local government deployed an approximately 600-strong
battalion of armed police -- equipped with riot gear, helmets and batons
-- to disperse the miners. One of the organisers, who had a megaphone,
was also arrested. The unarmed miners threw stones at the police and eventually
succeeded in forcing the release of the organiser. However many miners
suffered injuries inflicted by police batons and the exact number of wounded
demonstrators is not known.
It is reported that one demonstrator required stitches on his head and
is still receiving hospital care. In the confusion, another worker had
his foot crushed by a toppling door and was transported to Jishuitan hospital
near Beijing to undergo surgery. Armed police were also injured. Close
to midnight, the 5,000 demonstrating workers were dispersed and the train
line resumed operation sometime before dawn.
Xiahuauan coal mine has over 5,000 working and laid-off (xiagang) employees
on the books, along with 3,000 pensioners and workers who have left the
mine, some stretching back nine months. The slogans on the demonstration
included "Fight corruption" and "Let us Live" and three
concrete demands directed at the local government:
- Curb corruption.
- Reverse the unilateral and illegal decision by the government to start
bankruptcy proceedings in order to close the mine. The law requires
that such a decision should first be discussed at a staff and workers
- Make arrangements to issue all back pay owed to workers.
Right after the incident occurred, the Hebei government and the local
coal bureau sent a working group into the mine. They also asserted that
the bankruptcy was "good for the miners". However the miners refused to
accept this explanation and stated that if the problems weren't resolved
quickly they would block the railroad again.
China Labour Bulletin firmly believes that the miners' demands
are both reasonable and in keeping with their legal rights. In light of
the miners' rational and lawful appeals, the government's deployment of
armed police was unneccesary and the arrest of an organiser clearly inflamed
China Labour Bulletin demands that the Central government, the
Hebei government and the Coal Bureau:
- Immediately pledge to the workers that repressive means will not again
be adopted to repress peaceful demonstrations.
- Immediately disburse the back pay that is owed to the workers.
- Reverse the decision to bankrupt the mine and go through the proper
legal procedures to decide its future. If, following due full and open
discussion, the mine is declared bankrupt, full compensation and the
method of payment must be decided through collective bargaining between
workers and the government.
- Immediately launch an investigation into the workers' allegations
of corruption and embezzlement by the mine bosses and punish those found
guilty in accordance with the law.
Chief Editor, CLB