Calling for a genuine trade union - Why is the Jasic Workers’ struggle so important?

In the last one year, Chinese government has undergone a series of significant political operations, such as enshrining President Xi Jinping's political thought into the Party Constitution; constitutional amendment removing the presidential term limits, allowing him/her to remain in office indefinitely. At the same time, it tightened its control over the civil society, as an attempt to silence social conflicts. However, labour actions, in small or large-scale and somehow connected, take place all over China in 2018. In June and July, various social issues merged. The feminist #METOO campaign first broke the silence and openly named those who were in power; an article “King of the Vaccine” was released and spread over the internet, exposing the scandal of faulty vaccines. Then the protest at Jasic Technology can be seem as workers’ turn to address the social conflicts they have experienced.

By late August, members of the Jasic Workers Solidarity Support Group in Shenzhen were detained and lost contact with the outside world. These are students and workers from all over China, who were inspired by the Jasic workers and came to support them. Worker-student-coalitions are often seen in history and the Jasic campaign is a typical example. Shen Mengyu, the spokesperson of the Support Group and a labour activist, started to care about labour conditions in campus and attended numerous labour actions while she studied for her Master’s degree in Sun Yat-Sen University. She made an unusual choice to become an assembly line worker in Guangzhou NHK Spring Precision after her graduation. Three years later, despite the official trade union’s intervention, she was elected by her fellow workers to represent them to negotiate their wages with the management.

The protest at Guangzhou NHK Spring Precision is another story. Since the mass strike of automobile parts factories in Pearl River Delta in 2010, some unions were established and elected by workers and the Guangdong Provincial ACFTU attempted to reform the grassroots unions in the automobile parts industry. It first showed its support to union election and Wang Yang, the then member of the Politburo Standing Committee and Communist Party Secretary of Guangdong even announced to launch direct election in 160 enterprises. However, the reform did not last long. Most of the elections were controlled and the candidates were appointed by the factory management. As a result, workers prefer to safeguard their rights by themselves, instead of seeking help from the ACFTU when labour disputes occur.

While ACFTU continues to serve its role as a “stabilizer” for the state, workers have a burning desire to run their own union. Thus, NHK workers elected Shen Mengyu, Jasic workers demanded to elect their own union and so on. The Jasic workers’ protest was caused by the employer failing to pay for workers’ housing provident fund, treating workers like slaves and arbitrarily fining them with the so-called “18 Don’ts at Jasic” rules. The workers’ protest does not stop at overthrowing these illegal rules, but also to realize their freedom of association. In fact, their representatives Mi Jiuping and Liu Penghua consulted and followed the instructions from ACFTU to set up their union, they simply want to exercise their rights to organize.

While workers organize their unions in accordance with the “Trade Union Law”, the law itself is an idle legislation, allowing them to have only one union per factory and demanding approval from the upper level of ACFTU as a precondition. This restriction simply acts as a verdict, saying Chinese workers would have no chance to organize their independent trade unions. It is noteworthy that no matter Shen Mengyu’s quest as a genuine workers’ representative, or Jasic workers’ call for a trade union, they both comply with the existing mechanism in China and do not pose any challenge to ACFTU or the labour legislation. However, ACFTU at Pingshan District first denied its approval to Mi Jiuping to organize at Jasic, and when workers and members of Support Group were detained, it colluded with the employer and set up a yellow union. The case at Jasic Technology illustrates that the Trade Union Law leaves no room for workers to organize and the so-called reform at ACFTU is just a joke.

Students from many universities have signed a joint statement to support the Jasic workers and organized the Support Group, including Peking University, Tsinghua University, Sun Yat-Sen University, Nanjing University. Some students even travelled to Shenzhen to show up in protests and demonstrations. One of them is Yue Xin from Peking University, who paid a significant role in demanding the university to disclose the disciplinary record of former Professor Shen Yang, who was accused of sexual assault. Another Peking University student Gu Jiayue, once had been detained while organizing a reading club in college, was again detained while supporting the Jasic workers. This campaign is not only mobilizing labour activists, but also students who are concerned about women’s rights and workers’ rights. Thus, no matter how hard the authority tried to block the news, it captured the attention of the whole nation.

While Xi Jinping is trying to grasp all the power he could get, dissidents are called and united by the Jasic case. The call for a genuine union is the proof that Chinese workers do dare to say No!