Yu Jianrong (于建嵘): Maintaining a Baseline of Social Stability (Part 3 )

Dr. Yu Jianrong (于建嵘), chairman of the Social Issues Research Center of the Rural Development Institute of the China Academy of Social Sciences, delivered a speech entitled “Maintaining a Baseline of Social Stability” before the Beijing Lawyers Association on December 26, 2009. This is the 3rd part of the CDT translation, Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

In March 2008, the Australian ambassador to China, Mr. Geoff Raby, put in a request with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the China Academy of Social Sciences to meet with me. At the Academy of Social Sciences we were extremely nervous because in most cases a nation’s ambassador would not visit people [within the Academy]. The Academy had a dry run, holding a meeting like the meeting today with you lawyers. They organized a group of people to guess what it was that he might ask and how I should respond. When he actually came, he did not ask any of the questions that we had thought of. He asked three questions. One was: “In your country in 2007, rural farmers in three places announced that they held their land privately*. Supposing that there comes a day when all of China’s rural farmers announce that they own their land privately, what would happen?” When I heard this I was at a bit of a loss because this question hadn’t come up in our dry run. (Laughter) I responded by saying that according to our research, more than ninety percent of rural farmers did not yet have this concept [of private land ownership]. I didn’t tell him an inside detail which was that one of the incidents [in which rural farmers announced private land ownership] was organized by a non-lawyer legal worker. A lot of people know this person; actually when he organized this incident he sent me the materials to take a look at. But no matter [that most farmers don’t have a concept of private land ownership], rural farmers in three places vowed [that they owned their land privately]. This shows that one day other rural farmers might also take this step.

What are the most recent developments in rural [land] conflicts? One is the increase in the theft of subterranean resources. Everyone might know that on December 12, 2009 four rural farmers were again killed—killed with live ammunition—all so that their underground resources could plundered. The second [development] is the increase in the number of conflicts involving rights to forestland. We predict that these will continue to increase in the next five years. What’s the reason for this? It is because reforms in forestland rights have required a recalibration of interests. The third is the increase in rural environmental problems. Furthermore, [these problems] are moving from the East to the Midwest, and are shifting from factory pollution to pollution such as environmental pollution caused by mining and environmental destruction brought on by hydroelectric projects.
I have just spoken about problems involving rural farmers. Now I will speak about problems involving workers. I have written a book about this issue entitled The Situation of China’s Working Class. I wrote about coal miners in Anyuan [in Jiangxi Province] where Mao Zedong organized proletariat movements at the time. The place where the Communist Party really organized proletariat movements was the Anyuan coal mines. It was there that the first Communist Party Workers Organization was formed and where the first Communist Party Workers Branch was established. The Chinese Communist Youth League and the Young Pioneers all have close connections to Anyuan. All the key leaders of the Chinese Communist Party have all been to Anyuan. I researched there for four years and wrote a book about what the Anyuan workers were up to. My research discovered that problems involving workers are more complicated than problems involving rural farmers. Because their problems are more diverse, such as the restructuring of government work units, late payment of wages, etc., they are not like the case of rural farmers in which over 60% of problems involve land conflicts.

Workers’ methods of resistance include petitioning higher levels of government, sit-ins, strikes, demonstrations, and blocking traffic. Two extremely important recent methods of resistance include “taking a walk” and “going sightseeing.” (PowerPoint slide) Take a look, these are workers from Baoding “taking a walk” to Beijing on April 3, 2009. It is 137 kilometers from Baoding to Beijing. When I learned the news [of the workers’ “walk”] and rushed over, they were almost at the Xushui County toll station**. At the time Beijing was very tense; Shijiazhuang was very tense; Baoding was very tense. A lot of people and workers were sent to negotiate; they said “You can’t go to Beijing like this.” The workers answered by saying, “Is there a problem with us going to Beijing to go sightseeing? There’s nothing wrong with it. What law says we can’t go to Beijing to do some sightseeing?” Those [sent to] persuade them said, “you can’t all of you go to Beijing to go sightseeing.” The workers immediately responded, “And what law exactly says that this many people can’t go to Beijing to do some sightseeing? [Those sent to persuade them against going insisted,] “In any event, you can’t all walk to Beijing to go sightseeing like this.” The workers said, “We don’t have any money, why can’t we walk to Beijing?” The situation was extremely tense. Finally, Baoding City [government] had no choice but to state right there to the workers, “We’ll resolve all your problems.” The workers said, “We don’t have any problems. Our only problem is a sightseeing problem. Look for yourselves, we haven’t brought materials to petition the government, we’re not shouting slogans, we don’t have any problems, we’re not petitioning the government, we’re not lodging complaints. We are going sightseeing.” In the end, their actions at the scene caused their company’s chairman of the board to be taken away [by the police]. Only then did they return.

Everyone might think that the earliest instance of [workers] “taking a walk” was in Xiamen [in Fujian Province]. Actually the earliest instance involved Anyuan coal miners. This is why I became interested in the Anyuan coal miners. These old workers [in Anyuan] requested a pay raise. No one paid attention to them. The courts would not accept their case. They wrote a report to the Public Security Bureau saying that they wanted to stage a demonstration. The Public Security Bureau did not pay attention to them. Finally this group of people went to Beijing to petition the government. Because the size of the group exceeded five, a group of people were taken away [by the police]. Finally there was nothing else they could do so they planned that on a certain day 20,000 workers would all walk at the same time to Pingxiang City which encompasses Anyuan. Pingxiang is a prefecture level city; what’s up with 20,000 “taking a walk” along the roads? We’ve recently been researching this type of behavior, which is very difficult to classify as being legal or illegal.

What is more serious is the trend of increasing violence in workers’ conflicts. On July 24, 2009 Tonghua Iron and Steel had a strike [during which] the general manager was killed. Afterwards, [workers] in old state-owned enterprises in many places came up with slogans. One of them was “When the Tonghua Big Boss is doing [bad] things, what should one do about it?”*** This scared a lot of bosses at state-owned factories that were being restructured so much that they didn’t show up for work. Why? They were afraid of being killed. After this incident, I wrote three articles. In the first article, I discussed the topic, “Creating a Harmonious Relationship Between Labor and Management Requires Institution Building.” In September the All China Federation of Trade Unions held an important training session in Shanghai at the China Executive Leadership Academy Pudong. They called all the nation’s provincial and city level Federation of Trade Union chairs and research center directors to Pudong to attend the training. When I gave my presentation, people from the labor unions all raised this question: “Why don’t any of the workers listen to what we say now?” I said: “Why should they listen to what you say? You don’t represent their interests; how can you expect them to listen to you? It’s not until now when there’s some disturbance that you wonder why workers don’t listen to what you say.” Our findings are that violent worker protests flare up periodically. Problems that seem to have already been resolved appear all over again. There were disturbances years ago in the Anyuan coal mines; then they stopped; now they have started up again. Anyuan workers are now once again “taking walks,” once again “going sightseeing;” all these activities are starting all over again. The old historical problems are repeating themselves.

Taxi strikes are also quite serious. The most classic example is the strike that occurred in November 2008 in Chongqing. The Chongqing City Party Committee Secretary**** did two things at the time [in response to the strike]. First, he met this group of people. Second, he said, “Go and spend your members’ money to establish your trade union.” After making this statement, the whole nation voiced support. But there were still two questions. First, what should be done in other places throughout the country? What should the nation’s stance be on this issue? On November 10, 2008 Sanya [in Hainan Province] also had a taxi strike. The local municipal Party Committee Secretary named Jiang Zelin graduated with a Ph.D. from where I work at the Rural Development Institute of the China Academy of Social Sciences. He was very nervous and wasn’t sure whether he should see [these disgruntled taxi drivers]. But he didn’t have any other choice and had to see them. The Chongqing City Party Committee Secretary was a member of the Central Politburo of the Communist Party, [Jiang Zelin] had a lower position as a member of the Hainan Provincial [Party] Committee. If [a member of Politburo] deigned to meet [disgruntled taxi drivers] how could [Jiang Zelin] not meet with them? In the end Jiang Zelin was compelled to meet with these people and had to make some kind of statement. But could a trade union that truly represented China’s taxi cab drivers actually be established? At that time, a few people and I held a meeting at Peking University School of Law. I stated that according to my understanding of the Chinese Communist Party, according to my analysis of the governing philosophy of those in China who currently hold high positions, that [this kind of trade union that represents workers’ interests] could not be established. This is what [the government] fears the most.

The second question was, whether after [the creation of the trade union] the Chongqing taxi industry could develop in a healthy manner. Now the situation has changed. All the [trade union] leaders are not to be seen. Furthermore, the crimes that got mafia boss Li Qiang twenty years in prison, involved organizing the November 3rd Chongqing Taxi Strike.

Since 2008, teacher strikes have become quite serious. Teachers are smart; no teacher ever says that they are going on strike; they simply say that they are “stopping classes.” Why do [teacher strikes] occur? The main reason is that there are laws that require that teachers’ salaries cannot be lower than the salary of public servants in the same area who hold comparable positions. [The government] has not been able to meet this requirement. The newest development is cases sparked by unfair performance-based compensation.

* “All of China’s rural land is owned by the state. Farmers have usually been allowed to lease plots for 30 years at a stretch, after which they can renew the lease. But ownership — and the right to sell — has remained in the hands of village-level leaders and party secretaries.” (Taken from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/01/13/AR2008011302383.html. The article provides interesting background about the rural land privatization movement.)

** According to Google Maps, this toll station is 32 kilometers from Baoding and 126 kilometers from Beijing.

*** Hinting that murder is a solution to taking care of “big bosses” who are doing unfair things.

**** Bo Xilai

[To be continued]

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