China: 60,000 Workers Continue Historic Strike, Defying Repression by the State and Pressures from Western Corporations

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The biggest strike in China’s history is ongoing, despite the state’s increased repression, which has led to two activists going missing, more being arrested, and many more wounded and hospitalized. One of the missing activists was kidnapped for two days by security agents and was pressured to help break the strike, but he refused. Apparently the factory has started to threaten striking workers, and some were forced to go inside the factory, escorted by police and army troops, but they refuse to work. Instead they play cards, chat, and defy the policemen deployed inside the workshops to intimidate them. A major international agency has reported that half of the workers have stopped the strike, but this is not true and some even deny it. On the contrary, the conflict seems to have sparked new protests by residents over expensive land, housing, and parking. One of the corporations the complex produces for, Adidas, has announced they will shift production to other factories, helping the management break the workers’ strike which is the result of huge exploitation. Most of the workers at these factories are migrant workers – 300 million in China, forced to work in terrible conditions – mostly for western corporations – and being paid miserable wages. They come from rural China to work in factories so they can survive. They are discriminated against terribly - especially in housing rights, healthcare rights and school rights for their children.

“Teresa Cheng, an organizer with the International Union League for Brand Responsibility, slammed Adidas for moving some of its orders. “This is the typical behavior of Adidas,” she said. “Adidas systematically withdraws its orders and moves them to factories with more exploitative conditions, essentially punishing workers who dare to stand up to sweatshop abuse.”” Source

The strike now has been joined by 60,000 workers. The number of workers going on strike has tripled in less than two weeks. The entire production at the Dongguan complex has been disrupted – in fact this is the major concern of most international outlets about this strike, and not its causes, which lay in workers’ exploitation. “Yue Yuan makes one-fifth of the world’s athletic shoes, including brands like Nike, Crocs, Adidas, Reebok. Puma, Asics, New Balance, Timberland and Rockport. The strike at Hong Kong-headquartered Yue Yuan Industrial Holdings Limited (its parent company is the Taiwanese-owned Pou Chen Group; until 2009 Yue Yuan was one of the bluechip stocks in the Hang Seng Index of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange), the largest athletic shoes manufacturer in the world, has spread over 10 days.

After recent strikes at IBM and Walmart, also located in the Pearl River Delta, the walkout threatens to spread throughout the region — as did the Honda strike on Foshan in 2010; the Yue Yuan stoppage has become the largest industrial action in China since then. Workers went out after finding out that the legal work contracts they had been signing with the company were actually fake and also that the company had been significantly underpaying them in their social insurance for nearly 20 years. Faced with the company’s stubbornness and piecemeal offers, more and more workers have joined and it has now ballooned to include a solidarity strike from workers in another province also working for Yue Yuan.” Source

The workers demand that the employer company fulfill its legal obligations in housing and social security payments. The employer is a Taiwan-based company, they try to avoid paying back their debts towards workers. The strike extended when the company announced they would offer the workers new contracts from May 1st, but that it refused to pay its debts over housing and social securities. The workers also demand a 30 percent increase of their wages. Strikes in China have increased by 30 percent compared to the same period last year.

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