China: ‘unprecedented’ crackdown on organized labor



Authorities have arrested four labor activists who were helping campaign for workers’ legal rights, Reuters reports. The number of known strikes in China surged to a record 2,774 in 2015–double the previous year, according to Hong Kong-based advocacy group China Labour Bulletin.

Chinese police arrested the activists in the what has been described as the harshest crackdown against organised labour by the Chinese authorities in two decades, The Financial Times reports:

The level of the clampdown in the country’s southern industrial powerhouse, amid official jitters over a slowing economy and growing labour unrest, was “unprecedented”, a labour rights activist in Guangdong, said. “In the past, they would give us verbal warnings or put pressure on our landlords. But they had not used legal charges in their intimidations.”

Cheng Zhenqiang, the lawyer representing Zeng Feiyang, one of the activists arrested on Friday, told the FT by telephone that it was clear China’s slowing economy was playing a role.

“We’ve seen no indication that things are getting any better,” said Geoffrey Crothall, a Hong Kong-based spokesman for the nonprofit China Labour Bulletin.

Last March, the party’s Central Committee instructed officials to “make the building of harmonious labour relations an urgent task”, noting “labour tensions have entered a period of increased prominence and frequency and the incidence of labour disputes remains high”, The FT adds:

The Guangdong labour rights activist, who wishes to remain anonymous, said a thriving labour rights NGO scene could pose a threat to the credibility of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the government-backed body which workers see as a Beijing mouthpiece. “In the Pearl Delta region [where Guangdong is located], workers do not think very highly of the ACFTU. It is under great pressure [from workers] to reform, and hence extra measures [such as the crackdown] are needed.”

“The very existence of labour rights NGOs has affected the process of establishing official trade unions in factories,” he added. “[The] NGOs have pushed for collective bargaining among workers, which, against the backdrop of the current economic downturn, would put more pressure on the factories and local government.”


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