Zeng Feiyang: 14 years of pioneering service, and the making of a labour NGO

Zeng Feiyang: 14 years of pioneering service, and the making of a labour NGO

Biography of Zeng Feiyang, one of the 21 Chinese labour activists detained on December 3 - the latest wave in the criminalisation of labour actions, and general repression of social resistance in China since 2012.

Translated by "Solidarity with Chinese Workers" from《曾飞洋:14年寻路劳工服务 带领劳工NGO转型》by Xing Xiaowen (邢晓雯) and Wang Yangyang (王洋漾), published in Southern Metropolis Daily (南方都市报) on December 10, 2012 - original taken down, apparently, but reposted here and below.

This old, brief biography is translated and published here as part of an effort to resist the Chinese state's escalating offensive against workers and independent social forces in general. For updates and solidarity actions, follow the Facebook page “Free Chinese labour activists now 馬上釋放中國勞權人士“. For background, see “Guangzhou labor activists arrested en masse”, "Sweeping the house clean of labor NGOs", and “The criminalization of strikes since 2012“.

Another brief bio of Zeng Feiyang was published in English on Red Balloon here.

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Zeng Feiyang is a soldier ant, perhaps even a general. He bears the pain to which society is numb and redresses the unfairness where the law has repeatedly failed. In a multitude of deformities, he works tirelessly in pursuit of life's perfection. He is the bedrock of an era.

Zeng Feiyang's Panyu Dagongzu Service Center was founded in 1998. Like many of us, he had never heard of the word 'NGO'. Then, Zeng had only a simple desire to render legal services to migrant workers who were owed wages or sustained work-related injuries by helping them to recover some compensation, and eking out an existence with the centre in so doing. In 2000, a happenstance opened up the horizon of the passionate youth and he sought to remake the organisation. Thus was founded what others see as the first labour NGO in the country.

Zeng could have led a wholly different life. After graduating from university in 1996, he returned home to work at the Nanxiong municipal justice bureau and became a civil servant. But the carefree job made him anxious. “My heart hid a flame that had no place to burn” (he says). Less than a year at the bureau, he quit the job and came to Guangzhou to work in a community-run law firm.

At that time, Guangdong was a place that saw a great concentration of migrant labour. At the law firm, Zeng came into contact with many unfairly treated migrant workers. Sometimes, he was compelled to do the bidding of their agents and this made him extremely conflicted.

Later, Liao Xiaofeng, a worker from Sichuan changed his life. Hailed by the media as “Captain Justice”, Liao had taught himself law and often assisted migrant workers in recovering their wages. Not long after their meeting, Liao established the Dagongzu Service Centre in Panyu. In the July of 1998, Zeng resigned from the law firm and went to Panyu to support Liao. In the founding days of Dagongzu, the centre's main scope of activities were: providing a rights hotline, receiving letters and visits, and providing legal advice to migrant workers; working with relevant legal institutions on cases of rights violation, to provide legal aid and so on. The centre depended on low-cost service fees to sustain operations.

What Zeng could never have forseen was Liao's adamant departure from Dagongzu a month or two after establishment, leaving him alone to run the show. The latter had underestimated the difficulties of running an organisation. With commissions difficult to cash in, the centre was without a source of income; daily administrative expenses, staff wages and rent became serious problems. In the worst of times, the five full-time staffers had only 15 yuan a day for food. Zeng's girlfriend of three years left him in this period.

It was only until 2002 that Dagongzu had its funding in place, remade into an NGO and no longer having to ask the migrant workers they help for every legal or service expense.

And so, the then 28 year old Zeng, created Mainland China's first “labour NGO”, held up by people as the symbolic beginning of a worker mutual-aid movement.

In a fast developing China, establishing an NGO is not hard. The difficulty lies in sustaining one. It has been 14 years since Zeng Feiyang's entry into Dagongzu in 1998. Having led the development of a labour NGO, Zeng bore witness to the growth of civil society in the country.

Zeng has been a long-time observer of the development of capital-labour relations in the country. He finds that in three areas - wages, social security, the prevention and treatment of occupational hazards – things have remained out of kilter; not only does this state of affairs run up against the workings of a relatively developed market economy, it will accelerate the intensification of social contradictions and is becoming a great source of uncertainty for the future stability and sustainable development of China.

Now Zeng's NGO is paying more attention to the mass actions conducted by enterprise workers. Zeng thinks that only by improving the mechanisms for collective bargaining will workers be truly part of the factory workplace. “This is an important guarantor to realise China's sustained growth in the future," he says.

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原文:

曾飞洋:14年寻路劳工服务 带领劳工NGO转型

曾飞洋 他犹如一个兵蚁,更似一个将军。他在社会丧失痛感的地方坚守疼痛,在法律屡屡失守的地方修复公平。他在残肢断臂的人群中,用不懈的付出寻找生命的完美。他是时代稳固的基石。

曾飞洋的“番禺打工族文书处理服务部”成立于1998年。彼时他跟大多国人一样,对N G O一词闻所未闻,心中仅有一份朴素情怀,为遭遇工伤、欠薪的农民工提供法律服务,收取微薄报酬,步履维艰地维持机构存续。直到2000年,一个偶然契机打开了热血青年的视野,他决意携“打工族”转型,不想一役成功,便在番禺造就了外界眼里第一个“国内劳工N G O”。

曾飞洋本来可以过一种与现在截然不同的生活。1996年大学毕业后,他就回到家乡南雄市司法局,成为了一名公务员。但这种悠闲的工作令他很焦虑。“心里像揣着一团火,却不知道该在哪里燃烧。”在司法局干了不到一年,他辞去公职,来广州进了一家民办律师事务所。

当时的广东是一块聚集了大量外来劳动力的土地。在律师事务所工作的曾飞洋接触到不少受到不公待遇的农民工,有时在受代理人驱使下甚至不得不“为虎作伥”,这令他内心十分矛盾。

后来,他的生命因一位来自四川的打工者廖晓峰而改变。廖晓峰自学法律,经常为农民工讨薪,被媒体誉为“护法英雄”。认识不久后,廖晓峰在番禺成立了“打工族文书处理服务部”。1998年7月,曾飞洋从经伦律师事务所辞职,来到番禺投奔廖晓峰。打工族成立之初,其主要服务范围是:开通权益热线电话,接待外来工来信来访,为外来工无偿提供法律咨询;与有关法律机构合作,承办涉及外来工的侵权个案,提供法律援助等,靠收取低廉的服务费维持运作。

然而曾飞洋料想不到的是,廖晓峰对经营这样一个机构的艰难并没有足够评估,打工族成立仅短短一两个月他就决意离去。廖晓峰走了,曾飞洋只能独自扛下去。没有别的经济来源,办案的提成又很难兑现,服务部日常办公费、人员工资和房租都成问题。最艰难的时候,5名全职员工一天的伙食费才15元,曾飞洋相恋3年的女友也离他而去。

直至2002年,“打工族”的资金才逐步到位,转型为NGO,不再向寻求帮助的农民工收取一分一毫诉讼费或服务费。

于是,这个当时年仅28岁的小伙子,打造了中国大陆第一个“劳工NGO”,它被人们誉作是“劳工自救开始”的象征符号。

在目前快速发展的中国,创立一个NGO不难,难的是办下去。从1998年,曾飞洋进“打工族”至今,他已经服务了14年。带领着劳工NGO发展,其实也是在见证公民社会的成长。

他长期观察中国劳资关系发展,发现当中最重要的三项内容:工资、社会保障和工伤职业病防治还是处于无序、失衡状态。而这种状态,不但与我国已经较为完善的市场经济运行模式格格不入,更会加速社会矛盾的激化,成为国家未来稳定的、可持续发展的最大不确定因素。

现在曾飞洋带领的劳工NGO开始转型,更关注企业工人集体行动。他认为只有促进集体谈判机制的启动,才能使工人真正成为工厂的一份子。“这是未来中国经济实现可持续增长的重要保障”。

(南方都市报)

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Anonymous
Dec 7 2015 21:24

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Nao
Dec 14 2015 08:16

Another brief bio of Zeng Feiyang was published in English on Red Balloon here:

Zeng is the person in charge for Panyu Workers Service Center. He graduated in 1996 from Law and Politics, South China Normal University, later entered into Justice Bureau of his home county. He however was not satisfied with his well-paid job. In not more than one year, he joined instead the Guandong Jing Lun law firm. At that time, the law firm was the top among others, and was with good prospects for career development. He was asked to give legal advice to enterprises on all sorts of legal questions. Labour disputes are one of the kinds that is the most difficult. His role was to bargain with workers on behalf of the enterprises. Gradually, he became guilty of what he was doing — Those workers that he was asked to bargain, if not confront, were farmer-workers that sells their cheap labour for a living; what were they left with when their only “capital" — their bodies — were seriously injured? With this unfair treatment, how could they possibly continue their lives?

Therefore he joined Panyu Workers Service Centers, previously called “Panyu Workers Documents Preparation Service Group". At that time, Zeng like all other people were unfamiliar with the operation of NGO. He just wanted to contribute to labour rights! He then gives legal advice to workers who are injured and are victims of wage arrears, with very humble remunerations. Until 2000, an opportunity came up to inspire him to transform “Service Group" into a labour NGO called “Panyu Workers Service Center". Since its establishment, it has helped thousands of migrant workers through providing one-to-one assistance and agency services, etc.

Zeng was once awarded the “Charity Award" by the Responsible China 2012 Charity Ceremony, organised by Southern Metropolis Daily, because of his enduring labour work. But he was also physically attacked on December 2014 at his office by an unidentified person and got his organization’s license suspended.

“Workers should not be left with hopelessness and helplessness. It is the society who neglects their need for legal advice." Zeng feels that we should do something for them.