Five worker activists who were sacked from American-owned International Paper’s Guangzhou factory earlier this year will continue their fight to get their old jobs back despite a court ruling against them last week.
The Panyu District Court ruled on 12 September that the five workers had been illegally dismissed after leading a work-to-rule in protest at the company’s bonus offer in February this year but denied their request for reinstatement. The workers said they plan to appeal.
International Paper, one of the world’s largest paper manufacturers, had claimed that the dismissed workers’ positions had already been filled and that no vacancies currently existed.
Unlike, many workers who would simply demand monetary compensation for their dismissal, the International Paper workers were adamant they had done nothing wrong in the bonus dispute and were determined to accept nothing less than full reinstatement.
As CLB Director Han Dongfang pointed out in a speech at the Work, Employment and Society Conference in England on 3 September:
They wanted to go back not just to continue to work but also to continue to be workers’ representatives and to bargain with the management when called for…
Of course, the court decision in this case is important. But more important is the attitude of the workers. Faced with retaliation from management, they are no longer afraid! This means that these workers are ready and resolute in their defence of the right to keep their jobs, the right to negotiate collectively and, crucially, the right to strike!
The court decision came just one day after International Paper announced the closure of one of its plants in the US state of Alabama with the loss of 1,100 jobs. The company cited weak demand for paper products from US consumers as the main reason for the closure.
International Paper was at the centre of a bitter and long-running strike at three paper mills in the US in the 1980s during which the company also sacked striking workers and hired permanent replacements. The strike in the north-eastern state of Maine lasted 16 months and ended in October 1988 when strikers failed to get support from unions in other International Paper plants across the country.