China 'Rust Belt' Workers Besiege City Government



      March 19, 2002

      China 'Rust Belt' Workers Besiege City Government

      By REUTERS

      Filed at 8:55 a.m. ET

      LIAOYANG, China (Reuters) - Thousands of angry laid-off workers besieged

      government headquarters in the northeastern Chinese city of Liaoyang for a

      second day running Tuesday demanding back pay and the release of their


      Waving banners and shouting slogans, they thronged the building in the

      latest protest in China's industrial ``rust belt'' highlighting growing

      pressure on the government from millions of workers laid-off and stripped

      of welfare from state firms.

      Dozens of uniformed and plainclothes police blocked off the street in

      front of the building in Liaoyang city center, but made no attempt to stop

      the protesters who dispersed around midday after negotiating with

      government officials, witnesses said.

      The protest followed a much larger demonstration Monday, in which 30,000

      workers demanded unpaid salaries, an end to official corruption and the

      release of their nominated spokesman, Yao Fuxin, whom they said was

      detained by police on Sunday.

      ``These people have not been paid even a minimum living allowance, some

      for two years, some longer. They want their wages and they want Yao Fuxin

      released,'' said one 36-year-old laid-off worker who participated in the


      ``Yesterday, there were more people, about 30,000. Today was around 5,000,

      but they may continue tomorrow,'' he said. Other witnesses put Tuesday's

      numbers between 3,000 and 10,000.

      Protesters said up to 80 percent of workers in Liaoyang were unemployed or

      ``xiagang'' -- kept on company books but sent home on a minimum daily

      allowance of 180 yuan ($22) a month guaranteed by the government but often

      left unpaid by bankrupt state firms.

      Many of them now spend their days touting for part-time work on Liaoyang's

      potholed streets, which are lined with countless sooty carcasses of

      bankrupt and obsolete factories.

      Workers' protests have become increasingly common as China presses on with

      state sector reforms, but especially so in its northeast, designated a

      production base for heavy industry by central planners in the 1950s.

      Many accuse corrupt government officials of lining their pockets through

      the sale of state assets, while failing to foot the bill for

      cradle-to-grave welfare that was once a birthright.


      Police detained Yao, 53, Sunday after two days of protests in which about

      5,000 workers demanded the local legislature head be sacked for not

      protecting their rights, local sources said.

      Yao, a laid-off worker from the city's bankrupt Ferroalloy Factory, has

      not been seen since plainclothes officers hauled him away in a police van,

      fellow workers told Reuters.

      ``It's been more than 50 hours and we still have not heard a word about

      Mr. Yao. We asked the police and the government. They all denied arresting

      him,'' said one.

      Police and government officials declined comment.

      The Liaoyang demonstration followed similar protests in Daqing, home to

      China's top oilfield once designated a model by late Chairman Mao Zedong.

      Disgruntled Daqing workers, whose protest has now lasted nearly three

      weeks, accuse officials of taking fat bonuses while they received slim

      one-off payments for losing jobs and benefits.

      Local people in Daqing said Tuesday there had been some confrontations,

      but no violence, between thousands of protesters and police, whose

      presence was heavy.

      Liaoyang was the site of another protest in May 2000 when workers blocked

      a highway, clashed with police and besieged the city government demanding

      two years of unpaid wages and welfare.

      China is bracing for more of such incidents as tens of millions stand to

      lose jobs in an onslaught of foreign competition after the country's entry

      to the World Trade Organization in December.


      Protesters Tuesday said they were unlikely to get violent for fear of

      arrest, but they spoke of growing desperation and widespread anger with

      corruption in Liaoyang and across China.

      ``The factories have been closed or privatized and the money goes straight

      into the government's pocket,'' said one 34-year-old worker, laid off from

      the Ferroalloy plant, who also took part in Tuesday's protest.

      ``They don't even give us the minimum living allowance, but you see

      government officials driving past in their smart cars,'' he said, as he

      slurped a bowl of cold noodles, washed down with potent local rice liquor,

      after the demonstration.

      Another protester said the workers faced a dilemma.

      ``There is no way to make money here. With so many unemployed, even

      private business is difficult,'' he said. ''Who's going to buy your


      ``As long as it's peaceful police won't do anything. But if you cause

      serious trouble they will detain you like Yao Fuxin.''



      Copyright 2002 Reuters Ltd. | Privacy Information