Outside Forces Plot to Establish Autonomous Unions in Shenzhen

24 May 2001
Outside Forces Plot to Establish Autonomous Unions in Shenzhen
Workers Left Outside Official Trade Union as Authorities Fret About Control

Deputy secretary of the Shenzhen Party Committee Liu Tao revealed today that hostile foreign forces were trying to establish “autonomous trade unions” outside the control of the official All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). The authorities were particularly worried about the problem as workers in Guangdong province are leaving the ACFTU in droves and also because Guangdong has millions of migrant workers. The latter often organise “hometown associations” (tongxiang hui) to try and protect the rights of migrants from the same areas. “They (the migrants) have become the target audience in a struggle between the hostile forces and ourselves”, Liu Tao said.

The publicity office of the Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions told Mingpao newspaper that so far, they had not discovered any examples of “autonomous trade unions” permeating into Shenzhen via outside forces, but they were increasingly alert to the problem. If such organisations were discovered, they would be immediately banned.

In a report in the Chinese mainland newspaper Nanfang Dushi, Liu Tao said that Shenzhen served as a point of exchange between two different systems and viewpoints (Hong Kong and Mainland China – Ed.) and as such served as a frontier area for Western hostile forces vying for influence over the Chinese people. Some of these forces had tried to influence workers employed outside the public sector through schemes that aimed to establish trade unions independent of the official ACFTU – so-called "autonomous unions". At the same time, Liu expressed concern over the appearance of “hometown associations” and similar organisations that were being organised by migrants.

According to the report, the low official “unionisation” rate among employees working in newly established enterprises in Guangdong had brought a number of problems to light. A meeting today (May 24, 2001) aimed to tackle the problems of organising trade unions in new companies and a great effort would be made during the remainder of this year and throughout next year to increase official trade union presence in newly established companies. Representatives at the meeting also expressed concern over the large number of workers left outside the official trade union.

Vigilance Against Migrant Workers’ “Hometown Associations”

Migrant workers coming into Guangdong province have attracted official attention by establishing “hometown associations” which the authorities believe threaten their control over the workforce. Deputy secretary of the Guangdong Party Committee Huang Liman pointed out that in order to guard against the possibility of migrant workers misunderstanding the purpose of a “hometown association” and substituting it for a trade union, the development of official trade union membership must focus on the large number of migrant workers, and on large enterprises that still didn’t have branches of the ACFTU.

Huang Liman also pointed out that the “unionisation” rate in newer companies was not high and that membership of grassroots communist party organisations was even lower. Trade union activity and organisation should foster the entry into the party of more activists. Huang said that a basic requirement for speeding up the establishment of trade unions was for workers to have a sense of unity.

The Struggle for Hearts and Minds

Vice chairperson of the Guangdong Federation of Trade Unions Li Liulian pointed out that workers rights are easily violated and could not be protected while workers remained outside the official union structures. Low union membership had already made industrial relations in some enterprises very tense and all sorts of religious and hometown organisations were beginning to crop up as a result.

(Translated from Hong Kong Mingpao 24/05/2001)
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