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(en) Class Struggle in China -Organise! AF (Britain/Ireland)

From Al <klasbatalemo@yahoo.ie>
Date Fri, 25 Oct 2002 13:38:51 -0400 (EDT)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

Ever since the signing of the Treaty of Nanking in
1842, the most advanced sections of capital have
sought to integrate China into the world market. The
first steps towards definitively starting this process
appear to have finally been taken, with China?s
December 2001 entry into the World Trade Organisation
(WTO). We can safely assume that this would not have
occurred had not both parties seen benefits to making
this move - on the one hand access to untapped markets
and vast reserves of cheap labour, on the other a
chance to build up modern technologies and
infra-structure and solve a few social problems. But
this decision has also opened up a space for a
resurgence of mass class struggle that had not existed
prior to the restructuring of the last few decades.
This opening follows from two separate but
complementary dynamics: The destruction of the old
state-owned and centrally-planned heavy industries of
the north east, and the introduction of foreign
capital to the coastal areas and the south. 

The restructuring process began in the 1970s with the
dismantling of the huge collective farms, and the
development of small scale household plots, and the
gradual introduction of competitive markets. In the
1990s these family farms had largely been pushed aside
by the growth of large-scale agri-business and the
parallel rise of rural wage labour. This has also led
to the creation of around 200 million unemployed
landless peasants and a fall in the standard of living
in the rural inland areas - current estimates put
rural income at half that of the urban coastal areas.
With entry to the WTO and consequent international
competition, this number is expected to rise even
further, as the China Daily remarked "The country is
facing a serious oversupply of labour with the number
of people coming into the labour market reaching an
unprecedented peak."

In scenes reminiscent of the enclosures associated
with early industrialisation, these dispossessed
workers have no option but to move to the newly
developing urban areas, to take up sweat shop labour
for the many new factories that have sprung up
following the easing of restrictions on foreign
investment, and state sanctioned tax and human rights
exemptions. Often working 12 hours a day, seven days a
week and with no legal rights, as many of them are
?illegals?, having flouted the States internal
passport system to reach the cities, these are the
workers that ?the new China? of 7% annual growth is
being built on. The various ?Zones? the state has set
up (Economic, High-tech, Finance and Trade, export
processing, etc) are in fact statements to foreign
investors of the Chinese state?s willingness to solve
its rural problems by allowing these people to be
ruthlessly exploited. Unsurprisingly, the workers are
none too happy with this situation.

The second phase was to deal with the old inefficient
areas of the state controlled economy, this basically
entailed privatisation, mass sackings, the lifting of
the state monopoly on trade and the phasing out of
?cradle to grave? social security.  10 million jobs a
year are being lost, and this is expected to continue
as previously ring-fenced areas such as telecoms and
banking are opened up. A ?rust belt? has developed in
the old industrial heartland of the northeast, which
has seen the collapse of huge swathes of industries
that whole regions were based around - 75%
unemployment is not uncommon in many towns.

So, having identified the state?s plans, what
resistance is the working class putting up to these
frontal attacks on their living conditions? The
official strike statistics show that the number of
declared strikes rose from 8150 in 1992 to 120,000 in
1999, all illegal.  Undoubtedly these figures are too
low as they fail to record undeclared or wildcat
strikes, and the blocking of roads and railway lines
that have become increasingly common tactics.

The ?rustbelt? areas of the northeast have seen the
largest amount of open class struggle since 1949,
prompting the commander of the People's Armed Police,
the main anti-riot force, to say police must prepare
for an increase in "mass incidents". The most visible
struggle has been that at Daqing Oilfield where 50,000
workers have besieged the management offices for
months in a redundancy and benefits dispute, clashing
with paramilitary police and overturning cars. The
shrinking oil industry is seething with conflict
elsewhere as well.  Disputes over severance terms led
to large protests at the Huabei field in Hebei
Province and the Songjiang field in Jilin Province.

These workers are symbols of the ?old China?.  Most of
them are middle aged or nearing retirement, many of
them had been on the ?xiagang? system, that is they
were on the company books but did no work but were
paid a living wage. That has now gone, and with cuts
in pensions and heating allowances, these people are
understandably worried how this will effect them as
there is little chance of finding new work - hence the
militancy of their actions. 

This is mirrored in the protests in nearby Liaoyang,
where large industrial disputes are common. In March
this year workers from six different companies
co-operated on a scheme to protest about benefit and
wage arrears. They blocked the main roads and chanted,
?We are the working class!?  Soon workers from another
fourteen companies joined the protest; again the
overwhelming majority were middle aged or nearing
retirement. A steel worker in his 50s, in a statement
that could have been made by an Argentinean piquetero,
claimed that they must use militant tactics, as ?we
have no other hope now?.

In March 2001 2000 miners in the northern city of
Datong barricaded roads and fought the police, as they
protested over lay-offs and pay reductions. 10.000
Miners also occupied the centre of Fushun, blocking
roads and railways (again, a tactic that is often used
in Argentina). This form of protest has also been used
in Wuhan, Sichuan and Sheyang.

In Lanzhou 5000 taxi drivers attempted to storm the
government offices in protest at increases in fines
and licences - 3000 police were needed to save the
party officials.  Sheyang workers took a more direct
approach in the Sheda Toy Factory, taking hostage the
factory owner and his wife. They were held for twenty
days until back pay they had been promised was
forthcoming.  Importantly, the police refused to
intervene, as, in their own words, they ?did not wish
to provoke the workers?.

Maybe they could have passed this advice on to their
brothers in Shuikou city, Guangdong province, where
workers from the privately owned Nanxuan Wool Textile
Factory fought running battles with police and company
security guards for three days running in June this
year. This is a significant development as this
represents one of the first (reported at least) fights
against the new foreign-owned companies, rather than
the defensive battles being fought out in the old
state run centres. The workers here were the classic,
newly arrived to the city escapees from rural poverty,
prepared to put up with intensive exploitation out
fear of the (very real) consequences of not doing so.
The private security guards, who are notorious for
their bullying behaviour, manhandled workers in the
queue at the canteen, 800 workers then walked out in
protest, only to be attacked by security with iron
bars.  Photographs of the clashes published in the
Yangcheng Evening News showed blood trails around the
factory grounds. The remainder of the 15,000 workers
then turned on the guards, who were only rescued by
the intervention of the paramilitary police. Three
days of rioting followed with all the factory windows
being smashed, company cars and police trucks being
torched. A Guangzhou labour correspondent remarked,
"There is nothing unusual now about labour protest in
Guangdong but these events are unprecedented."

There has also been a spate of boss-killings,
particularly in Hubei province in central China,
another of the ?rustbelt? provinces. Children are now
said to play a game called ?Kill the Boss? in which
they re-enact managers deaths, pretending to stab and
throttle each other.

So what are the chances of these disputes breaking out
of their isolation and linking up with other
autonomous working class actions?  Unsurprisingly, the
vastness of China is helping the state to keep these
struggles cordoned off from each other, as is the
state news and broadcasting monopoly - something which
the government has been very keen to safeguard
recently, allowing satellite channels to broadcast
only approved material and restricting news coverage. 
Any wider link up, leading to a sustained period of
struggle, is going to have to develop
counter-information networks, such as those that
sprung up in the Stalinist states: news of the
dispersed disputes, how the state reacted, what
tactics were successful or useless etc need to be
circulated and developed by those in struggle. 
Permanent links will depend on how successful each
sector (new industry or old) can be in supporting the
others; this is the key question at the minute. 
Isolated disputes can be dealt with easily - bloodily
or peacefully.  What will really worry the state and
foster working class confidence, is when struggles
break out in one area and are followed by solidarity
actions in another. 

It is noticeable though, that the older workers are
fighting for things like more generous redundancy
packages or guarantees for pensions or other social
security issues such as heating allowances and lower
rents: essentially things to soften the blows of the
remainder of their life, whilst the workers in the
newer industries are looking for higher wages and
fewer working hours. The former could possibly be
characterised as a limited struggle, as one that will
pass as China continues to integrate further into the
world market, and the latter as a struggle that is
open-ended and only going to reach it?s full
development in the years to come. 

The question of the elderly is one that is very
rapidly evolving into a class issue. The elderly
population is presently 130 million, but is expected
to more than double in the next generation, and this,
combined with the effects of the ?one child? birth
control policy, (less young adults to look after
parents) is leading to serious battles to safeguard
pensions and related health schemes now before
conditions get any worse.  This can be seen in the
trouble in the old industrial heartlands; the
(ex)workers are trying to protect themselves before
the state restructuring worsens conditions any
further. We should recognise that this is a class
struggle even if it doesn?t appear in the usual forms.
What?s more, this is one of the few issues that
concerns the whole of geographic China, and might
possibly help the emergence of the counter-information
networks mentioned above.

We should not be complacent about the role that China
is being given in the class struggle in the other
countries either. At the minute the stability and
developed infra-structure of the west continues to
make it a worthwhile area to invest in - a rapidly
developing and technologically advanced China will be
used as stick to beat other workers with. The threat
of shifting work to one of the new ?economic zones?
will offer bosses the opportunity to introduce
measures designed to increase the already monstrous
productivity levels. Flexibility, casualisation, new
organisations of work with constant supervision so
that not a second of the day is not spent working are
all already being introduced against fierce resistance
- all under the cover of competition with cheap labour
zones meaning there is little choice.

The answer is not to oppose Chinese workers and accuse
them of ?stealing our jobs?, but to recognise that we
are all part of a global working class, and that our
needs are one and the same, and that by linking our
struggles and raising them to an international level
(as capital has already done) we can effectively block
capitals plans, which can in turn allow us to develop
the space to articulate a positive expression of these
collective needs, directly and a higher level than the
nation state, and so more effectively.

One thing is clear though: class struggle continues in
China, and the state?s plans are only serving to
further advance the antagonism.  What happens next
depends on how far the workers are prepared to act in
each others defence and outside of any state or
official organs, on what forms of working class
communication evolve, and on how far they are prepared
to challenge the state locally, nationally and


>From Organise!, thrice yearly magazine of the
Anarchist Federation (Britain/Ireland), now available
in PDF format at:




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