JASIC workers’ struggle for freedom of association - The development of a nationwide support
Original Text and Photos in Chinese: CUHK Grassroots Concern Group
While many students are relaxing during the summer vacation, some students from China rushed to Shenzhen to support the workers of a welding equipment manufacturer, JASIC Technology, where workers were physically assaulted and arrested for forming their own independent union. In recent years, there have been many strikes in Mainland China, as collective labour actions of various magnitude broke out across the nation due to factory closures and insufficient labour protections, such as the recent truck drivers’ strike and tower crane operators' strike just to name a few. But the JASIC workers did not only stand up for the sake of improving their material gains, they took action to form trade union to empower and organize the workers in the long run. But in a country that claimed to be "socialist," the JASIC workers were being suppressed by the joint force of employer, national union, and police. Until now, 30 workers have been detained for more 144 hours. Why are they being suppressed? What is the context of the incident? We hope that this article can provide some basic answers.
JASIC Technology is a publicly listed welding equipment manufacturer with more than 10,000 employees. In a joint statement released by the JASIC Workers Solidarity Group, the workers pointed out that the company illegally “change the workers rest time”; workers were told to "walk for ten kilometers" in Julong Mountain during their rest time, and were ordered to work overtime after the walk. The company also establish an illegal punitive scheme whilst the workers would be fined for “misbehaviours” such as “talking in work”, “adjust the air-conditioning below 26 degrees”, “fail to turn off the lights after work", and "male workers who dye their hair or wear tattoos". The range of the fines starts from 100 to 300 yuan (daily wage is about 100 yuan). In order to penalize the workers, the company would peek into the staff on the toilet. Moreover, the company also owes the workers of their housing provident fund.
So in mid-May, some workers decided to complain to the Pingshan General Union. At that time, the district trade unions said that they could form a trade union to solve the problem. However, in mid-June, the employer went ahead of the worker to set up an "Employees General Meeting" and appointed their trusted aides as the union leaders.
The Trigger to Collective Action
The workers have no rights to form union?
Although Article 3 of Chapter 1 of the Chinese Trade Union Law states that all “workers have the right to participate in and organize trade unions according to law,” and "no organization or individual may obstruct or restrict”, Article 10 of Chapter 2 also stipulated that there must be a “unified All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU)” (the whole body), and all local or industrial trade unions must be under the leadership of the Federation; at the same time, the establishment of all trade unions must be seek approval from higher level trade unions (Article 11). For instance, if the JASIC workers want to form a trade union in their factory, they need the permission from the Pingshan General Union. The problem is that many of the so-called trade unions under the ACFTU are "yellow trade unions", which are mainly manipulated by the employers. Corrupted elections has turned most of these “yellow union” into employers’ puppets, rather than pioneers who fight for workers’ rights at the negotiating table. Therefore, it is often difficult for workers to organize genuine unions.
Can the workers form their own union?
Since legally, only one union is allowed in each workplace, many employers would establish their own “yellow union” (a union that support the employer) and arrange their trusted aide to become the leadership of the unions, in order to exclude the workers from the power core. One of the reasons that triggered the JASIC despite was the company went ahead of the workers to established its own union in June, shortly after the workers complained and seek approval the Pingshan General Union to form a trade union in mid-May. The employer has since suppressed and dismissed the workers who attempted to form genuine trade union.
Can the workers reclaim the union?
According to the WK News, some enterprise based trade unions are controlled by the management. Moreover, in the elections of trade union representatives, many employers exercise their authority to elect their union leadership: “many employers would ask the employees to endorse their appointed candidates, and no one dares to question the candidates. They would sometimes ask the employees to sign the endorsement forms even before the names of the candidates were filled out.” Demonstrating that employers can continue to control trade unions be means of authority and coercion, which makes unions virtually toothless.
Timeline: Suppression on JASIC workers and their supporters
Since the demand to form their independent union by the JASIC workers, not only have the employers deprived them of the power to organize trade unions, the workers were also transferred and dismissed by the employer. Moreover, the workers were later arrested and detained by the government. The involved JASIC workers have since requested to return to work repeatedly, but was dealt with violently. At the same time, students from several universities have expressed their support in various open letters and have already received more over 1000 petitions. Some students even rushed to the Shenzhen Government to submit their open letters and were also detained. Here are the main events timeline that we have compiled from multiple reports:
Escalation: Employer and police colluded to suppress the workers
Under the direction of the District General Union, the employees who prepared the trade union formation distributed the “Preference to Join the JASIC Union Form” to their co-works, with as many as 89 employees endorsed. However, the company defamed the worker representatives by saying that they deceived their colleagues to sign by deceitful proclaiming the document as "firefighting training" related.
Liu Penghua, the worker representative who formed the trade union, was transferred to other workshops for no reason, and was beaten by two unidentified people. Afterwards, the perpetrators were escorted by a special car. After the workers reported the police, the police ignored Liu Penghua’s injury and instead requested mediation. Liu Penghua has been detained until 12 am until other workers demanded his release.
News of Liu Penghua’s incident was widely spread in Pingshan.
Another worker representative, Mi Jiuping, was asked by the district union department head, Xie Zhihai, to make an announcement to declare that the preparation of the trade union had nothing to do with the district trade union. Later, he was asked to be transferred by the company but he refused. Mi was violently expelled from the factory by security guards on orders from management personnel, Zhu Xiaohuan.
A worker who came to his help was physically threatened and dismissed.
The worker representatives were violently obstructed and expelled by the security guards when returning to work. They were later beaten and detained by the government. At noon, more than 20 workers went to the police station to demand their release, they were also detained by the police.
At around 10 am, the arrested workers were released after being illegally detained by the Pingshan Yanziling police station for 24 hours. Around 2:30 pm, all detained workers were also released.
Workers from JASIC Technology and Solidarity Group protested at the Yanziling Police Station. At 9 pm, a policeman who is known as the secretary of the Disciplinary Committee of the Pingshan Public Security Bureau made a promise that he would investigate the illegal misconducts of the police and will inform the workers with the investigations results in three days’ time. However, when the workers called the Pingshan police station after three days, they were told to “wait for a few more days!”
The employed organized a team of management personnel to blockade the factory entrance in order to prohibit the dismissed workers from returning to work.
30 people, including worker representatives, their families and other supporters protested at the factory to demand work reinstatement, but were besieged and later arrested by riot police, including Xi’an university student, Hu Kaiqiao. At least 6 workers were detained by the police on charges of “Picking Quarrels & Provoking Troubles”.
Boiling Over: worker detentions and nationwide support
Students from Peking University published petition in support of the JASIC workers. Initiated by Yue Lu, the student who had been punished by the Peking University’s sexual assault case earlier, the petition demanded the release of the workers, guarantee workers’ rights to organize trade unions, and public investigations by local authorities. They believe that the importance of this incident is that workers are not demanding "individual short-term interests," but "promoting goals such as the establishment of independent unions through democratic means." The petition enticed dozens of students and citizens to co-sign. However, the WeChat public account that shared the petition was immediately deleted by the officials in a matter of few hours. Students from Nanjing University also published a petition “to stand alongside the Pingshan workers resolutely." On the same day, in another petition, students from the Renmin University of China condemned the Yanziling police station for “not only failing to safeguard workers’ rights, but also physically assault and detain the workers”, just like the “running dog of the old ruling class”.
Students from China University of Political Science and Law and Tsinghua University published petitions in support of the JASIC workers, summoning public support, and demanding public awareness on the rule of law and labour issues in the country, and stressed that “to support the JASIC workers is the same as supporting ourselves.." 15 representatives of the JASIC workers solidarity group, including workers and students, went to the Pingshan District Government at 4:30 in the afternoon to hand an open letter to the Pingshan Municipal Government in demanding an investigation on the beating up of the workers by the police but was taken to the police station to be “called upon and educated”. They were released at 9 pm on the same night.
In the morning, representatives from the HKCTU, LSD, Labour Party, Socialist Action, and Workers Empowerment marched from the Western District Police Station to the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in Hong Kong, demanding the immediate release of the workers and their supporters, reinstating the dismissed workers' representatives, and recognizing the independent union formed by the JASIC workers. On the evening of the same day, SACOM published “An open letter from scholars to the Shenzhen Government and FTU regarding violence against Jasic workers attempting to unionize”. About 100 scholars co-signed the letter. The letter pointed out that the incident pointed out "This incident reflects the vast disparity of power between capital and labor in contemporary China... When workers propose to organize a union in accordance with the law, and to mediate an industrial dispute within the framework of the law, they are suppressed by the company, the police, and higher levels of the union apparatus. When companies violate labor laws and regulations, on the other hand, they are able to mobilize the police and the union system in order to oppose workers’ demands to form unions in accordance with the law. "
More than 20 student and labour organizations published a petition in support of the JASIC workers. It is said that the company's actions are "not to be approved by the workers from both sides of the strait" as they are also oppressed by "the capitalists and their agents (governments)". Thus, they support the JASIC workers struggle. It is reported that the arrested student, Hu Kaiqiao, was released, but 30 workers were still detained for more than 144 hours.