Financial Times: China teacher strikes hit three more cities

29 November 2014

China Labour Bulletin is quoted in the following article. Copyright remains with the original publisher.

November 28 2014

Tom Mitchell in Beijing

Teacher strikes have spread to three more cities in China’s slowest growing province this week, reflecting increasing concern among public sector workers over low salaries and pension payments.

Teachers and students said the three citywide strikes involved as many as 20,000 educators in northeastern Heilongjiang province, an agricultural and industrial heartland whose economy grew just 5.2 per cent in the first nine months of this year compared with the same period in 2013.

China’s economy expanded at 7.3 per cent last quarter, its slowest pace in five years, putting greater strain on already heavily indebted local governments.

While industrial action is common in factories in China’s coastal manufacturing regions, public sector strikes are relatively rare, especially when co-ordinated across cities.
Pictures and videos posted online showed thousands of teachers massed outside government headquarters in Yilan, Shangzhi and Shuangcheng, which ring the provincial capital of Harbin to the east and south.

Videos taken in Yilan on Wednesday showed scuffles between teachers and police, who tried to confiscate their banners and detained dozens of protesters.

Subsequent videos showed the Yilan teachers massing again on Thursday and chanting “release them!” One witness said the detained teachers were freed later that day.

“If China had improved conditions for teachers like Japan had and we were respected by society, we wouldn’t have to come out and protest,” said one teacher in Shangzhi, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution from local authorities. “If you are a teacher and your spouse doesn’t work, you can’t support your family or afford to send your kids to college.”

According to the teacher, about 1,000 of his colleagues were massing in front of government headquarters for the third consecutive day on Friday, in an attempt to draw attention from higher-level authorities about their low salaries and concerns over pension payments.

“They say that if you protest for three straight days, your case will be reported to the provincial government,” he added. “And if you protest for four straight days, your case will be reported to the central government.”

A government official in Shangzhi confirmed that the teacher strike was continuing. “It’s not only us, there are protests in other places as well,” said the official, who declined to give his name. “We have reported our situation to the Harbin municipal government and Heilongjiang provincial governments. We will act according to their response.”

Another government official in Yilan declined to comment, saying “we are dealing with it now”. Shuangcheng officials could not be reached for comment.

The strikes came just a week after teachers in Zhaodong, another city near Harbin, said as many as 8,000 educators boycotted classes. Government officials countered that the city had no more than 6,800 teachers, and said not all of them had participated.

The teachers in Zhaodong returned to class after they received a small raise and higher-level authorities promised to investigate their complaints about pension payments.
The teachers involved in this week’s strikes said that their school union representatives, affiliated with the government-controlled All China Federation of Trade Unions, had refused to take any role in the protests.

“Teachers’ trade unions in China do absolutely nothing,” said Geoffrey Crothall with China Labour Bulletin, a Hong Kong-based worker rights group.

Additional reporting by Wan Li

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