Unceasing Suppression on Labour Movement: Crackdowns on Labour Rights Activists in China Since 2015
Since 2015, labour movement in China has entered a harsh winter. After a series of crackdowns, it is evident that the Chinese government’s suppression of the labour movement is increasingly relentless. This article summarizes the suppressions on labour struggles since December 2015 for a better understanding of the situation on China’s labour movement in recent years.
Labour rights activists criminally detained in 2015
On 3 December, 2015, the Guangdong Provincial Government criminally detained a total of more than 25 labour rights activists. Many NGOs staff members were affected. In the incident, Meng Han, Zhu Xiaomei, Tang Huanxing and Zeng Feiyang were charged with “gathering a crowd to disturb social order”, because of their involvement in organizing workers during the Cuiheng Bag Factory and Lide Shoes Factory strikes in 2014; He Xiaobo was charged with “embezzlement”. Other two labour NGO staff, Deng Xiaoming and Peng Jiayong, were subsequently released and escorted back to their home towns under the surveillance of the national security officials. He Xiaobo was released on bail on 7 April, 2016 and was also monitored by national security officials. On 26 September, 2016, Zhu Xiaomei, Tang Huanxing and Zeng Feiyang were convicted. Zhu Xiaomei and Tang Huanxing were sentenced to 1 year and 6 months in prison and suspended for 2 years; Zeng Feiyang was sentenced to 3 years in prison and suspended for 4 years. Meng Han was handed down a 21 month prison term on 3 November, 2016 which he served in fill. This incident has prevented them from engaging in labour rights defending duties and it also caused the work of building workers' rights awareness through intervention in collective labour disputes to come to a standstill.
Li Tingyu (left) and Lu Yuyu
Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu under the username “non-news” (wickeddonnaa) documented and published incidents of labour disputes and collective struggles online, were arrested with charges of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” in June 2016. In April 2017, Li Tingyu was sentenced to probation in a secret trial and the specific sentence was unknown. Lu Yuyu was sentenced to 4 years in prison in Dali, Yunnan Province on 3 August, 2017. Lu lodged an appeal and the court upheld the verdict and sentence on 25 September. Lu’s lawyer pointed out that they were collecting the data mainly from official news sources, their charges were totally unjust.
Three labour activists — Hua Haifeng, Li Zhao and Su Heng, worked undercover to investigate labour conditions in a factory produced shoes for Ivanka Trump’s brand, were arrested by the Jiangxi police on 30 May, 2017. A source revealed that the three had acquired evidence of labour rights and labour law violations. They were detained for nearly one month and released on 28 June. They were gagged from disclosing the internal conditions of the Huajian factory, therefore, there were no further prosecutions against the Huajian factory of labour law violations.
Jaisc workers protesting
In May 2018, dissatisfied with treatment and exploitative practices, the workers of Shenzhen Jasic Technology sought assistance from the trade union. The Pingshan District Trade Unions Federation recommended them to form a trade union. Workers' representatives Mi Jiuping and Liu Penghua, thus, applied to the local trade union federation according to the law and under its guidance, they successfully mobilised a group of workers to join the trade union they organized. However, on 12 July, 2018, the Deputy Chairman of the Pingshan District trade unions federation, Huang Jianxun and other four trade unions committee members, together with Deputy General Manager Xia Ruyi and the Chief Executive of human resources Li Hongpo of Jasic Technology, met the workers’ representative Mi Jiuping and declared that the formation of the trade union was illegal. As a result, the factory dismissed Mi and another worker, Song Yao. On 20 July, six workers’ representatives, including Mi, Song and Liu, went to work as usual and were removed violently by the security guards. They were subsequently beaten and criminally detained by the police and it drew the curtain of the Jasic Struggle. The police arrested many supporting workers and activists from the Jasic Workers Solidarity Group consisting mostly of students from the Marxist Society of various universities. Among them, Shen Mengyu, was taken away by unknown assailants on the evening of 11 August. On the evening of 24 August, the police raided the support group’s residence and arrested Yue Xing, Gu Jiayue and others. Although the struggle was ended, the suppression of the supporters continues. As of 5 March, 2019, more than 40 workers, students, community centre and grassroots trade union staff were criminally detained and students from the Marxist Society continue to be harassed by the police and university officials.
On 20 January, 2019, Zhang Zhiru, Jian Hui, Song Jiahui, Wu Guijun and He Yuancheng were arrested by Shenzhen Police in Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Changsha. Presently, only He Yuancheng has met his lawyer. For others who cannot meet with lawyers, their families are continuously harassed by the authority. As of 5 March, 2019, it was confirmed that all five of them were formally arrested on charges of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order”. There has been no confirmation on the reasons of their criminal detention, yet what is certain is that they are likely to face lengthy imprisonments.
The above five incidents of labour movement suppressions by the Chinese government are those that received relatively more media attention since December 2015, which further substantiating the oppressive nature of the Chinese Government. China’s astonishing economic growth is built upon collusion between the government and businesses as well as the exploitation of grassroots workers. When the economy slows down and the wages of the workers no longer catch up with inflation, workers are the first to suffer and labour struggles inevitably arise. Nonetheless, the Chinese Communist Party, founded on the ideology of socialism, turns a blind eye over the demands of workers and connive with businesses to suppress labour movement. It even harasses and detains students and the public who support the workers.
The incidents demonstrate the Government’s apathy towards labour rights and perpetuate that the workers continue to be exploited for the sake of the great “Chinese Dream”, in exchanging that wealth to be concentrated in the hands of a privileged few. The Chinese Government chooses to ignore the hardships and demands of workers, as well as disrespects the rights and liberty of workers to associate, organise and strike. In face of injustice, workers will continue to resist against the Government’s suppression.