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Home page > 20- ENGLISH - MATERIAL AND REVOLUTION > Chinese authorities go easy on bosses, hard on workers

Chinese authorities go easy on bosses, hard on workers

Saturday 17 January 2009, by Robert Paris

Chinese authorities go easy on bosses, hard on workers

Wed, 14 Jan 2009.

Prosecutors in Guangdong province told, “not to arrest or detain factory bosses” suspected of economic crimes

China’s southern industrial powerhouse, Guangdong, has seen a spate of factory closures and layoffs in recent months. Some of its biggest cities are in ‘recession’ according to government spokesmen. In many cases, bosses have bolted leaving thousands of workers without wages and jobs. A wave of labour disputes – up 90% last year – has swept the province. The crisis is producing a series of policy somersaults from the local agencies of the ruling ‘communist’ party. As Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin (CLB) reported on 8 January:

“In a clear sign that the authorities are willing to relax their enforcement of China’s labour laws during the economic crisis, the Guangdong provincial procuratorate has instructed its officers not to arrest or detain factory bosses and other senior staff suspected of white collar crime. However, workers whose protests are deemed to jeopardize factory production will be prosecuted.”

Faced with desperate, angry workers’ protests on a daily basis, local authorities in cities like Dongguan and Shenzhen have stepped in with compensation payments to these workers. But this did not last long. Three months into the steep industrial downturn there are reports that payments from local government have been reduced and now only cover one-third of workers’ lost wages. As the Washington Post (13 January) reported, “the government simply cannot afford to pay every worker every yuan they are owed.” Provincial politicians were rumoured to be planning new laws to punish runaway bosses. But as CLB’s report shows, “it now seems that even if the law is approved, prosecutors will be unwilling to enforce it”.

Need for real trade unions

As has long argued, workers in China enjoy almost no real protection under labour laws including the Labour Contract Law that was introduced with pomp and ceremony one year ago. The reason for this is the lack of independent and militant trade unions to enforce such laws and fight against the machinations of greedy bosses. The only legal ‘trade union’ is controlled by the government and its representatives at factory level are appointed by management.

As the economic crisis deepens – recent days have brought more miserable economic data of falling exports and lost jobs – the ‘communist’ rulers at local and national level see no alternative but to let workers and the poor shoulder the burden. The national government told local governments to freeze minimum wage rates in November. Local governments are cutting back on payments to sacked workers. And this latest news shows how desperate the authorities are not to ‘scare away’ companies even when they engage in blatant law-breaking. While, according to the Guangzhou Daily newspaper, prosecutors may overlook “embezzlement and corruption” by bosses, they should still “handle appropriately and according to law (civil turned criminal) cases in which economic disputes trigger violent incidents, such as forced debt recovery, kidnapping, looting etc, and effectively safeguard social order and safety.”

As CLB correctly states this means that:

“The implication for workers’ taking action to defend their legitimate rights is clear, any strike or protest demanding wages in arrears, social security and pension benefits etc, that escalates into violence will be suppressed and the perpetrators prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

These latest anti-worker measures will only further enrage ordinary people, and increase the desire for an end to undemocratic one-party rule as well as the crisis-torn system of capitalism.

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