Trade union officials in the central province of Shaanxi have threatened the founders of a new workers’ rights group, saying it is a “reactionary organization” that could harm China’s “Harmonious Society,” Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on 29 June.
More than 380 workers from some 20 enterprises in Shaanxi applied to the provincial Party committee and trade union federation to set up the Shaanxi Enterprise Union Rights Defence Representative Congress, or, “rights defence congress” for short.
The main goals of the proposed congress would be to put workers in control of enterprise unions, and to supervise or monitor the government, enterprises, and the activities of union employees. By building on the current employees’ representative conference system, the organization would supervise existing unions, and report on important issues, such as problems in enterprise reform, bankruptcy, and the unlawful activities of grassroots union officials.
Congress founders said that the impetus for setting up such an organization came from the fact that workers could not collectively get justice through the courts and that petitioning was a dead end. They added that the organization would not advocate petitioning or road blocks as a means of solving problems. Rather the congress would seek to resolve issues by creating effective unions.
Although the application was sent in to the Party, government and the union offices over two months ago, no official response has been given. Radio Free Asia contacted the Shaanxi Federation of Trade Unions about the status of the application, but, after being redirected to the union’s organization department, the department refused to answer the phone.
RFA reported however that some of the application signatories had been threatened by union officials who claimed the rights defense congress was a “reactionary organization,” linked with foreign hostile forces. Union officials also accused the signatories of harming the “Harmonious Society.”
The likely suppression of such an organization - one that could give voice to workers’ demands and interests - is fully in line with the “vicious circle” of how labour disputes turn into social conflict, as outlined in China Labour Bulletin’s research report Protecting Workers’ Rights or Serving the Party: The Way Forward for China’s trade unions, (Figure 1 on page 7). In this vicious circle, workers who lack effective representation in the workplace are forced to stage protests, strikes and demonstrations in an attempt to get the government to intercede. In order to maintain social stability, the government uses a combination of pressure and persuasion to resolve these disputes including the suppression of workers’ demands for setting up real unions or rights organizations. This in turn reinforces the lack of effective worker representation at the grassroots level, leading to more disputes in the future.