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Textile workers in Chongqing block traffic in pay protest

Tuesday 14 April 2009, by Robert Paris

Textile workers in Chongqing block traffic in pay protest

Tue, 14 Apr 2009.

Southwest China: 400 workers stage second day of protests over unpaid wages


Around 400 workers from Jindi Industry Group Co., a major state-owned textile company in Chongqing municipality protested over unpaid wages by blocking a main road on Monday 13 April. The workers told Xinhua that the protest, sustained late into the evening, was aimed at attracting government attention as they had not been paid for three months. They blocked a main road in front of the company in Fuling District with iron boards at 21.00. Some came to make the road block attempt from early morning, and more workers joined the blockade after dinner, said a worker, who declined to give his name.

On Tuesday, the workers took to the streets for the second day. A worker named Zhou told Xinhua that the protest was meant to attract government attention because many of the workers had not been paid for the past three months. Zhou’s monthly salary is 380 yuan (about 56 US dollars), which is much lower than the 560 yuan minimum salary standard in Fuling. “Without the meagre salary, my life becomes even more difficult,” he said.

Textile sector in crisis

A spokesman for the local government said that the state-owned company, which employs 6,500 people, cannot afford to pay its employees. This spokesman cited the sharp fall in demand for textiles as a result of the global crisis. China’s textile and garment exports dropped to $6.68 billion in February, a 35 percent decrease from the same month a year ago, according to the General Administration of Customs.

But China’s economic problems are clearly not confined to the export sector and private companies, as Jindi’s problems indicate. 70 percent of China’s textile production is actually for the home market, rather than for export. Therefore the slump in textile sales is also a sign of the slowdown in China’s domestic economy. The government hopes to create nine million jobs this year by boosting the economy with a 4 trillion yuan ($586 billion) stimulus plan. At the same time however, the government estimated last month that the number of unemployed migrant workers had risen to 23 million since January.

Order was being restored Wednesday after thousands of people clashed with police in a district of Chongqing that is struggling economically, a local official said.

The incident began at the same time late Tuesday when state media announced the purge of Bo Xilai, former party chief of the mega-industrial city, from the party’s ruling circle, and the arrest of his wife, Gu Kailai, who is suspected of involvement in a murder case.

The Chongqing official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was no connection between the two events. But the incident reflects the challenges local governments face as three decades of rapid economic expansion have left uneven growth.

The official said Wansheng district, where the clashes happened, is running out of mining resources and trying to modernize its economy. But its economic problems become more pronounced after it was merged into neighboring Qijiang county earlier this year, said the official, who like many Chinese officials did not want to give his name.

The official said after the merger "the economy in Wansheng was affected and residents have become upset." The merged region has more than 1 million people.

One witness from Wansheng, Liu Wei, said businesses and schools were closed Wednesday in the area. Liu said Wansheng residents were unhappy because some benefits, such as pensions and some teacher salaries, were reduced after the merger.

On Wednesday, the Chongqing government posted a statement on its website saying the city would safeguard pensions and medical benefits for Wansheng residents. It also said Wansheng would enjoy the same favorable policies as it did before the merger.

The names of Wansheng, Qijiang and Chongqing were blocked Wednesday on popular microblog sites, but some bloggers were able to upload photos reportedly taken from Wansheng that showed streets full of thousands of protesters and swarms of riot police, plus images of some people with blood-covered faces.

A banner in one photo read: "I want to eat. Return Wansheng district to me."

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