ACFTU sold Jasic workers and failed its pledge to reform
Labour disputes at Shenzhen Jasic caused by workers’ initiative to form their own union have being going on for more than a month, while supports from mainland China and overseas continued. The Jasic workers have been fighting for months, just for forming a union of their own choosing within the existing legal framework. However, workers’ right to organize was given away again, when the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU, the only legal union in mainland China) joined hands with the Jasic management to suppress workers’ actions. The ACFTU and the Jasic have used the most abject means to ban the organization lawfully formed by the workers, and exercised state power to crackdown worker leaders of the organization and their supporters. The labour actions have once again proved that the ACFTU is in the lead to suppress Chinese workers’ right to free association, and exposed the unseemly collusion between the official union and the employers.
In May, workers of the Shenzhen Jasic Technology Co. Ltd., discontent with the company’s unlawful working conditions and stringent management policies, sought assistance from the local Human Resources Department and the local ACFTU , and was recommended by Huang Jian-xun, Deputy Chairperson of the Pingshan District Federation of Trade Union (FTU) to organize their own trade union. Not noticing the dangers ahead, the Jasic workers followed the legal procedures to apply to the district FTU with 89 workers’ signatures on the Letter of Intent to Join Workers’ Union. However, the ACFTU colluded with the employer and set up their union organizing committee to replace the one formed by the workers. The ACFTU and the employer also discredited the workers’ organizing process. The employer first accused Mi Jiu-ping for cheating in obtaining the workers’ signature in the name of fire safety, and then the ACFTU claimed that Mi Jiu-ping’s action to organize a union as unlawful. Mi Jiu-ping was asked to write a letter of apology and declare that his action to organize a union was not instructed by the district ACFTU. On 1 August, the Longtian Community FTU officially approved the setting up of union organizing committee, with Huang Jian-xun, Deputy Chairperson of the Pingshan District FTU, as the chairperson of the committee and Zhang Zhi-ying, Director of Investment Projects of Jasic CEO Office, as the deputy chairperson of the committee. In fact, these two persons were the key figures in suppressing the worker leaders. The ACFTU and the Jasic management have joined hands to organize their own union to keep the grassroots workers at bay from union leadership, and to stop the union from fighting for better working conditions in the future.
The six workers leaders who initiated the establishment of union, including Mi Jiu-ping and Liu Peng-hua, were later relocated or dismissed by the company. Outraged by the illegal dismissal, some workers intended to return to their position but were beaten up by the security guards and police. The workers protested at the local police station, which resulted in arrest of several protestors on 20 July and detention until 21 July. The incident went viral online and gained wide support from internet users and students across the nation. As workers continued their struggle, left-wing student groups organized the Jasic Workers Solidarity Support Group and mobilized university students across the nation to go to Shenzhen to support the workers. On 27 July, the Shenzhen police arrested 29 Jasic workers, students and other workers in support of the Jasic workers. They were detained by the police on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles”, and 14 of them are still under detention.
In the small hours of August 24, riot police officers were deployed to raid the residence of the support group in Huizhou, forcibly arrested more than 50 workers and students. Late at night on the same day, the official media Xinhuanet released its first commentary on the Jasic labour actions. The article did not look into the political responsibility and inaction of ACFTU which has more than 1.13 million staff, but blamed the 4-person small labour organizations, Worker Empowerment, for stirring up labour actions in Jasic. In fact, the root cause of Jasic labour actions lies in people’s discontent accumulated over the growing wealth disparity and institutional injustice in all these years. The fact that the government tried to frame the workers’ self-initiated actions as “controlled by foreign forces” proves that the Chinese Communist Party refused to face the growing social problems. Though the ACFTU tried to escape its responsibility again as it did in previous large scale labour disputes, its representation for workers remains in question. For Chinese workers to realize their rights to free association, they have to break through the legal barrier of Trade Union Law and the institutional barrier of ACFTU.
According to No. 87 of the International Labour Convention, workers enjoy the rights to establish and join organization of their own choosing. However, the “Trade Union Law” has restricted the workers to join unions established under the ACFTU only. Without the legal provision to establish independent unions, Chinese workers do not enjoy de jure or de facto rights to free association. In fact, most of the union leadership in China was handpicked by the ACFTU and the employers through single-candidate election (election without competition). The ACFTU and the employer even conspired to take away the Jasic workers’ opportunity to establish their union according to the law. The collusion between ACFTU and the employers was terrifying. Though the ACFTU has claimed to undergo reform to support workers to defend their rights in recent years, the incident has once again proved that the ACFTU was repeating the same tricks of stabilization: sacrifice workers and civil rights to resolve labour disputes and conflicts. While improving workers’ condition should be the responsibility of the ACFTU, it has turned against the workers in the Jasic dispute and became part of the suppressive power. It was an abominable example of how absurd China’s trade union system and law could be.