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November 3, 2008

China: a New Kind of Protest(Labor Movement)

I chose this article because it discusses a specific example of Chinese workers protesting at their factory in China. It also describes this "new" Chinese labor movement and the problems that face its success. This is one topic that I have always been interested in because the United States imports so many goods from China.

"The first time we went on strike the boss was very wily. He kept the lights on in the factory to make us think other people were still at work. The second time we were smarter," grins Luo Chun Li. "When it was time to start work, we just sat there and did nothing."

A migrant worker from Hunan Province, Luo Chun Li is a strike veteran at the age of 26 in a country where strikes are illegal. When I meet her, she is shepherding a group of women through the door of a Shenzhen migrant workers' centre, stuffing leaflets into their handbags to distribute at hospital casualty units. She eyes the street warily: the centre has been trashed twice in six months by men with iron bars. In the back, weary workers are killing a rainy Saturday afternoon leafing through novellas from the centre's penny library.

This is what the new Chinese labour movement looks like: lacking money, security and post-school education, these young, female volunteers are part of a huge change in the country's workforce. To anybody who witnessed worker militancy in Britain in the 1970s, all this will be familiar. There's a labour shortage; wages are rising; factories are closing because of rising costs; there are overtime disputes, unpaid wage disputes, and above all strikes: at least one per day involves a thousand workers, according to official figures.

Last November's strike at the Alco electronics factory in the southern province of Guangdong, sparked by rising food prices, was typical. With food inflation at 23 per cent, the management wanted to double the amount taken from wages for the three meals a day the workers eat in the canteen.

What happened next is documented in a collection of digital photographs shot by the strikers. They streamed into the avenue outside the plant and blocked it. It was peaceful until the riot police arrived, some in blue, some in camouflage, many with Alsatian dogs. The photos tell the story of baton charges and arrests, though they survived for only a few hours on the Chinese internet.

When I arrived at Alco to find out what had become of the strikers, there were police on every corner--and this was early Sunday morning. Speaking to them in public as a western journalist was out of the question; my Chinese researcher quizzed a few of them down back alleys as they came and went. I learned how the strike had been resolved: management backed down and the workers returned. In other words, they won.

This is the new pattern of Chinese labour disputes. They are spontaneous and solid. The strikers block the streets. The police move in, but so do Communist officials. In 2006 President Hu Jintao ordered them to stop treating all strikes as a threat to social order and to mediate instead of cracking down.

Decoupling industrial relations from the wider issues of political legitimacy and protest in China means the workers' movement, for now, is not going to be a driver for political democracy. But it has left the official workers' institutions looking antiquated.

Party leaders ordered the state-run trade union federation to start organising among this non-core workforce. Then, after much consultation, they passed the Contract Labour Law, which came into force on 1 January 2008.

The results have been spectacular. According to the local chamber of commerce, roughly 10,000 small factories have closed in the space of three months. It wasn't just that their owners didn't like the idea of collective consultation; they disliked the idea of the workers having the right to redundancy pay if laid off after long service.

Others have simply tried to get around the rules. A couple called the Cuis wander into the migrant workers' centre perplexed: in their late thirties and from Sichuan, they have worked in the same factory for nine years. Now managers at the Shin Dar electronics company, which makes headsets for LG, have requested all the long-service workers like the Cuis to "retire".

A generational change is happening, says Huang Qingnan, who founded the migrant centre in 2003 with money awarded to him after a factory fire burned off most of his face. Late last year he was hospitalised again, after his attempts to help a worker collect back pay led to a knife attack that nearly killed him.


"We've seen a big change of attitude. Workers like me, in their thirties and forties, would come straight off the farm. If they were ripped off they'd keep their mouths shut. But the generation of migrants born in the 1980s are different. They saw others coming home well dressed, looking better off. They thought that as a factory worker you make loads of money. When they find out the reality they will not put up with it. They quit the sweatshops and move to Shanghai."

This month, as migrant workers began to return to the factory districts after their annual New Year holiday, it became clear they were voting with their feet. The Guangdong Province labour ministry confirmed what bosses already knew: around one in ten migrants has not returned after the spring break, and for every seven jobs at local hiring fairs, there are just four workers.

Like all labour activists in China, Huang knows how violent and irrational strikes can become. He generally tries to head them off. But, he warns, "There is no law that says you have to go to work." The Chinese working class has moved about as far as the UK factory workforce moved in the 20 years between the banning of trade unions in 1799 and the Peterloo demonstration of 1819.

And although they have no inkling of this parallel, the words of the man who immortalised that time in poetry are present, crossing centuries and continents. As I leave, Luo hands me a copy of the centre's bulletin. She points to the headline and translates. It is a line from Shelley, reduced to its essence in Mandarin: "After cold winter, spring certainly comes."

"The Workforce That Changed the World", broadcast 7 March on BBC2's Newsnight, is also available on the BBC iPlayer

Protest Against Deforestation in Indonesia

This article discusses Greenpeace's recent activism against the rampant deforestation in Indonesia. This is a subject that I am very interested in and it caught my attention right away. The method they used was a sort of mock violence as they wielded fake chainsaws and wore masks to protest.


The Greenpeace are at it again and this time, they are carrying a protest against the rampant deforestation in Indonesia.

During the protest,the Greenpeace activists donned masks and “armed? themselves with mock chainsaws. They positioned themselves outside the Forestry Ministry to urge the Indonesian government to stop deforestation.

Hm… the activists do remind me of the movie Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Deforestation in Indonesia is so widespread that around 300 football fields of trees in Indonesia are destroyed every hour due to illegal logging, mining and slash-and-burn land clearing for highly profitable palm oil plantations.

According to a newspaper report form 2007, Greenpeace has cited that Indonesia had become the third largest carbon emitter in the world after the U.S. and China, due to the destruction of its peatlands and forests.

The effect of deforestation in Indoneisa can also be felt by its neighbouring countries like Malaysia and Singapore in the form of haze. These haze contains pollutants and dusts particles which are harmful to health and may trigger asthma attacks.

Hopefully, the Greenpeace protests can send a strong message to the government body regarding the seriousness of this matter.

Kasmir Hindus Call off Protest

This article caught my attention because it discussed the excessive amount of force used by Indian troops against Kasmir Hindus. After two months of protests the Kasmir Hindus called off their protests because the government was allowing them to use lands for their annual religious pilgrimage.


Kashmir Hindus call off protest
Sep 1, 2008 11:46 AM

Hindus in Indian Kashmir called off their two-month protest after the government allowed them temporary use of land at the centre of a religious row for an annual pilgrimage, officials said.

At least 38 people have been killed so far and more than 1,000 wounded in violence in Jammu and Kashmir, pitting Hindus in Jammu against Muslims in the Kashmir valley, the two main regions that make up the state.

The dispute began over a piece of forest land near a Hindu shrine, but snowballed into some of the biggest pro-independence demonstrations in Muslim-majority Kashmir since a revolt against Indian rule broke out in 1989.

Authorities re-imposed a curfew in many areas of Kashmir after briefly relaxing it earlier in the day, as protesters clashed with police in Srinagar, the summer capital.

Six people were wounded when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas shells and used batons to disperse demonstrators.

Indian troops have been criticised by Kashmiris and international human rights groups for using excessive force, as several rounds of talks with protesters on either side failed.

On Sunday, officials and Hindu protesters agreed to use the disputed forest land to build temporary shelters, ending protests in Jammu city.

"We are temporarily suspending our strike," Leela Karan Sharma, a Hindu protest leader said, as Hindus burst fire crackers in the streets to celebrate the agreement.

But authorities imposed a curfew in Jammu city to prevent any retaliatory violence and more rallies.

"We reject the deal between Hindu hardliners and the puppet government of Kashmir," Masarat Alam, joint spokesman for the separatist groups said in Srinagar. "We appeal to people to continue peaceful protests."

Cave shrine

The dispute began in June after the state government promised to give forest land to a trust that runs Amarnath, a cave shrine visited by Hindu pilgrims to pray by an ice stalagmite.

Muslims were enraged at the decision, forcing the government to change its mind as the People's Democratic Party (PDP), a key partner in Kashmir's ruling coalition withdrew support from the Congress party-led state government.

Hindus in Jammu, angered by the government U-turn, attacked lorries carrying supplies to the Kashmir Valley and blocked the region's highway.

Challenging the blockade, Muslims took to the streets in Kashmir and clashed with police as separatists united to launch some of the biggest pro-independence demonstrations in Kashmir.

In the past three weeks, Indian police shot dead at least 30 protesters and more than 600 were wounded in clashes, as authorities struggled to restore law and order.

Several thousand Islamists rallied in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi on Sunday to protest over Indian forces' alleged excesses and to express solidarity with Kashmiri Muslims.

They were scheduled to rally later in neighbouring Islamabad, Pakistan's capital.

The crisis has strained relations between India and Pakistan, which both claim the region in full but rule in parts, damaging a tentative peace process and raising fears Kashmir could again become a hotspot between the two nuclear-armed rivals.

India has also intensified a crackdown against separatists and detained at least five separatist leaders, including a top woman leader in an effort to defuse protests.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Kashmir since the armed revolt against New Delhi's rule broke out in 1989.