At least three well-known labour activists have been formally arrested in Shenzhen and charged with gathering a crowd to disturb public order (聚众扰乱社会秩序罪).
The families and associates of Wu Guijun, Zhang Zhiru and He Yuancheng learnt of the charges separately on 26 February and 27 February, more than a month after they were detained in a coordinated police action late on the evening of 20 January. They are being held in a Shenzhen detention centre and are understood to be in reasonable health.
It is unclear at present exactly what incident the charges refer to because the authorities have told Wu and Zhang to decline the services of the lawyers hired by their families. In addition, family members have been harassed by the authorities and told not to talk to the media about the case.
Two other activists, Jian Hui and Song Jiahui were detained at the same time as Wu, Zhang and He. Given that they have yet to reappear in public, it is assumed that they have been arrested and charged as well.
The arrests are the latest step in a sustained campaign by the authorities to crackdown on grassroots labour activism in China, and comes at a time of heightened tension in the workplace as the economy slows and employers lay off staff and cut wages and benefits. The authorities are clearly nervous about the ability of labour activists to organize workers who are already struggling to make a living and increasing angry at the gross social inequality they see around them every day.
Wu and Zhang, in particular, have been arguably the two most prominent and effective labour activists in Shenzhen over the last five years.
Wu Guijun first came to light as an activist in 2013 when he organized workers at Hong Kong-owned furniture maker Diweixin in Shenzhen in protest at the company’s refusal to discuss compensation for the planned closure and relocation of the factory. He was detained for more than a year before being released without charge in June 2014 (see photo below). At which point he began his career as an independent activist helping factory workers in the city to claim social insurance and other entitlements.
Zhang Zhiru has been one of the most prominent labour activists in Shenzhen for the past decade. After working on construction sites and assembly lines in his home province of Hunan for many years, Zhang founded the Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service Centre in 2007. The centre was involved in numerous labour disputes during the 2010s and guided thousands of workers through collective bargaining with their employers. The centre even won praise from state-run media outlet Global Times in 2014.
Jian Hui worked at Chunfeng during this period, while He Yuancheng was the former editor of the Collective Bargaining Forum (集体谈判论坛). Song Jiahui was formerly a worker at the Lide Shoe factory in Guangzhou and was elected worker representative in arguably the most successful collective bargaining case in the recent history of the workers’ movement in China.