Workers Revolt in Capitalist China

Revolutionary Worker #1173, November 3, 2002, posted at

"The Tiger Platform coal mine in Fushun [China] laid off 24,000 of 30,000 miners two years ago.... Millions of unemployed, like those in Fushun, face a threadbare future, even as they watch on TV--and on the streets--a new generation of Chinese, sometimes old bosses and their families, flaunting flashy new cars and cell phones, and spending wads of cash on shoes that would buy groceries for two years. As industries close, a generation of the proletariat, raised under communist ideology to believe they were the masters of the country, now feel at the mercy of bankrupt companies and cash-poor municipalities.

From Christian Science Monitor,March 25, 2002

"Workers want to eat--workers want a job."

Chant during March 2002 workers' demonstrations in Liaoyang city

Throughout 2002 a growing tide of workers' struggles has swept through China. Protests peaked in March, April, and May as tens of thousands took part in massive street demonstrations against layoffs, benefit cutoffs, and other abuses.

These workers' struggles--and the injustices that the workers are protesting--point to the reality of today's China. This country, once a revolutionary socialist society, is now a capitalist hell for the masses of workers and peasants.

For over 25 years after liberation in 1949, China under the leadership of Mao Tsetung was a revolutionary beacon for people around the world who dreamed of getting rid of the chains of oppression and exploitation. But in 1976, after the death of Mao, counter-revolutionaries led by Deng Xiaoping seized state power. These reactionaries called themselves "communist"--but these phony communists overthrew socialism and restored capitalism in China. (See sidebar.)

China's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in October 2001 has drawn the country deeper into the web of imperialist globalization. China's agriculture and industry now face more direct competition with corporations in the imperialist countries.

China's capitalist rulers are "downsizing" or shutting down many formerly state-owned factories in the name of economic "modernization," throwing millions of people out of work. In the countryside, small farmers are being thrown into competition with large mechanized farms in the U.S. and other countries. Unable to compete, peasants are being forced off the land in droves. According to some estimates, there are now more than 200 million migrant workers within China.

What follows is a look at three of the largest and most prolonged workers' actions in China earlier this year.


Liaoyang is an industrial city of 1.8 million residents in northeastern China. During the 1970s, the Liaoyang Spinning Factory employed up to 120,000 workers; by 2002, only 500 remained. The Liaoyang Ferroalloy employed an estimated 12,000 men and women at its height. When the company declared bankruptcy in November 2001, about 6,000 remained--including laid-off, retired, and injured workers.

Unemployment in the city stood at 25 percent at the end of 2001. Liaoyang residents estimated that 80 percent of the city's workforce struggled to get by on day-labor jobs.

The Ferroalloy plant started to lose money in 1995. But, according to the workers, management continued to issue false reports showing net profits so they could award themselves large bonuses.

In May 2000, 600 Ferroalloy workers blocked Zhenxing Road, the main highway between Liaoyang and the provincial capital, Shenyang. According to one report, some workers had not been paid for as long as two years, pensions and other benefits had been stopped; and laid-off workers were not receiving their unemployment compensation.

Early the next day, the protesters--now numbering 5,000--moved back to the factory grounds. Some 700 police, including members of the paramilitary People's Armed Police (PAP), broke up the gathering, beating workers with truncheons and injuring as many as 50. Three worker representatives were detained. By 8 a.m., 1,000 workers regrouped and attempted a march to government buildings. They carried banners saying, "Release the worker representatives" and "Being owed money is not a crime."

During the first week of March 2002, Ferroalloy workers issued four open letters exposing the corruption of plant managers and the collusion of local government officials. The letters were posted on the factory's gates and on the walls in the surrounding neighborhood.

On March 11, a top Liaoyang government official told a reporter that "there were no unemployed in Liaoyang" and no serious problems in the city's economy. In response to the blatant lie, some 17,000 protesters--mainly laid-off workers--took to the streets of Liaoyang on March 11-12. Two thousand Ferroalloy workers joined 15,000 workers from other factories in a show of strength against the authorities. Workers charged that the local government had stood by while managers and corrupt officials had permitted embezzlement, and leading to terrible hardships for workers.

Four days later the police arrested Yao Fuxin, one of the worker leaders. On March 18 workers turned out in force to protest Yao's arrest. About 4,000 former Ferroalloy workers were joined by 30,000 supporters from some 20 other Liaoyang factories in a march to the local government headquarters.

According to participants and local taxi drivers, some 10,000 took part in the following day's demonstration despite police roadblocks. One banner carried by demonstrating workers read, "We have a government of hooligans."


During the 1960s and 1970s, Daqing (previously spelled Taching) became renowned throughout China and the world as the model for oilfield development and developing industry along the socialist road.

Oil was discovered in the Daqing area in northeast China in 1958. At the time China was dependent on imports for 90% of its oil needs. Building a domestic oil supply was seen as an important part of breaking China away from imperialist domination. Hundreds of thousands of workers went to work in Daqing.

Putting revolutionary politics in command and through hard work and self-sacrifice, the Daqing workers were able to overcome many difficulties. By 1963, China's dependence on foreign oil was over. Daqing, with over 26,000 wells, became one of the largest oilfields in the world.

With restoration of capitalism and integration into the imperialist world market, dependence on imported oil has returned to China. By 2001, 30% of China's oil was imported.

In 1998, as part of plans to list its oilfields on the New York and Hong Kong stock exchanges, the Chinese government restructured its oil holdings, with the most profitable assets transferred to a subsidiary called PetroChina. Less profitable fields are left to decay.

As a result of this economic restructuring, tens of thousands of workers were laid off in Daqing in 2002 alone. Estimates are that over 80,000 oil workers -- one third of Daqing's total of 260,000 -- have been laid off in the last few years.

A laid-off Daqing worker expressed frustration at being forced to accept the company's severance offer and then seeing the company's promises evaporate. "When the company made the offer, they made it clear we had no choice; they had to reduce the workforce or the company was finished. `Take the money now or you'll get nothing later on,' was the message. So everyone took it, because [the company] said when we reached retirement age we would get the same treatment as the workers kept on. Now they've changed it. They lied."

Between November 2000 and early 2002, laid-off Daqing workers faced a 46% increase in the fees that they pay for health insurance and retirement. These increased fees quickly ate away at the severance pay that the workers received. The final straw came in February 2002, during the cold northern China winter, when Daqing Oil announced that it would no longer pay for heating oil for the laid-off workers.

On March 1, 3,000 oil workers marched on Daqing Oil headquarters. The largest protests occurred on March 4 and 5. Workers blocked a train heading for Russia for 30 minutes in a successful attempt to attract international attention to the protests.

One participant described the scene: "From 7:00 onwards...more and more people arrived, well over 20,000. We headed towards the railway tracks because some people were saying that an international train was due to come through and it would have foreigners on board; if we hold them up, we will have more impact.... We blocked it for half an hour but then dispersed as we were afraid that a long delay might cause an accident."

The protesting workers invoked the memory of Wang Jinxi, better known as Iron Man Wang, whose selfless work to build the Daqing oilfields under socialist China was popularized throughout the country. One flyer handed out in the city's Iron Man Square called on protesters to "follow the Iron Man's example. It is better to die 20 years early and struggle with all one's might to the end...."

Despite a heavy police and army presence, roadblocks, arrests and detention of activists, and a complete media blackout, the Daqing workers continued protests throughout March and into April and May in Iron Man Square. The protests drew 7,000 to 8,000 workers on a regular basis. According to Human Rights Watch, the demonstrations were monitored each day by some 800 PAP troops; and at least 12 truckloads of soldiers were out of sight but available at a moment's notice. Plainclothes police made "snatch" detentions of anyone who appeared to play a leading or organizing role. Employed workers who took part in the protests were threatened with the loss of their jobs. The government also attempted to divide employed and unemployed workers by telling the employed workers that they would not be paid bonuses until the demonstrations stopped.

Despite the threats and intimidation, 20,000 workers protested on May 13 in front of Daqing Oil. Protests spread to oilfields in Xinjiang, Liaoning, and Hebei provinces. Several thousand laid-off workers from the Huabei Oilfield in Hebei staged demonstrations at government offices on March 4 in support of the Daqing workers.


Protests in Fushun, a city in Liaoning province with a population of over two million, date back to the mid-1990s. When a coal mine threatened to lay off 20,000 miners in 1994, the workers responded with petitions and slowdowns until the provincial government agreed that no one would be laid off and all workers would receive their wages, bonuses, and allowances. By 1995, however, the city was experiencing severe unemployment as was the rest of the region.

During a 1997 tour of the province, Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji defended layoffs and bankruptcies: "One important reason behind state enterprises' problems is their excessive workers or overstaffing. Only with fewer workers can they lower costs, increase efficiency, and survive and develop... This method has been adopted by the coal industry for several years and has been proven to be effective." Zhu also advocated replacing the housing provided to workers at almost no cost with privately owned housing.

In 1999, Longfeng State Mine was allowed to declare bankruptcy, throwing close to 100,000 miners out of work. During 2000, the Tiger Platform coal mine laid off 24,000 of its 30,000 miners. Workers from other industries were also laid off.

In 1998 and 1999, retired miners blocked roads and the rail line and occupied the train station in Fushun to protest lack of pension payments. In 2001, according to official figures, 396,596 workers were listed as being "at their post" while 305,128 were listed as "not at their post"-- which effectively was a 43% unemployment rate. But the government claimed the unemployment rate was only 2.7%.

The Asian Wall Street Journal recently described the conditions in Fushun: "Block after block of crumbling factories, their grounds covered in weeds, surround a few streets of mobile-phone retailers and gaudily fronted restaurants that offer a life few believe they will ever be able to afford. `People have a real sense of crisis,' said a shopkeeper in Fushun."

Sustained protests began in mid-March 2002 when as many as 10,000 laid-off workers from coal mines and cement, steel, and petrochemical factories blocked the railroad and the main road into Fushun over inadequate severance payments. During the second half of the month, laid-off coal miners, including some from the Tiger Platform Mine and Victory Mine planned and executed more sit-downs on the railroad tracks. It is illegal to put up posters without official permission. So the organizers publicized the time and place of the protests by secretly putting up anonymous posters in the streets and buildings within workers' quarters. The method succeeded in recruiting some 3,000 participants who blocked the railroad twice more.


"On Sunday in Beijing, the commander of the People's Armed Police, the main antiriot force, told an officers' conference that with China's entry into the WTO the police must prepare for an increase in `mass incidents.' "

"Leaner Factories, Fewer Workers Bring More Labor Unrest to China,"
NY Times
, March 14, 2002

The brutal workings of the capitalist free market and the predatory drive for profit are leading to increasing misery and hardship for the masses of workers and peasants in China. But as Mao Tsetung said, where there is oppression, there is resistance. The harsh realities of capitalism are giving rise to growing resistance among millions of workers and peasants in China.

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