Labor Activist Sentenced Amid Rising Unrest

Labor Activist Sentenced Amid Rising Unrest

On November 3, labor activist Meng Han was sentenced to 21 months in prison, making him the fourth person associated with the Panyu Migrant Workers’ Center in Guangdong to be tried for his work advocating on behalf of workers. After Peng had earlier refused to confess to his alleged crimes, his parents were attacked by armed thugs. He pleaded guilty at trial. Echo Hui reports for Quartz:

China’s crackdown on labor rights organizations comes as the country grapples with an economic slowdown that has contributed to more unrest, according to China Labour Bulletin (CLB), an NGO based in Hong Kong. CLB recorded 2,047 strikes in the first nine months of this year, compared to 1,869 in the same period last year.

[…] Through his lawyer, Meng had earlier expressed his refusal to cooperate with authorities and incriminate colleague Zeng Feiyang in exchange for a lighter sentence. Zeng, the director of the Panyu Workers’ Center, was sentenced to a suspended three-year jail term after he was detained in early December during a crackdown that saw seven activists, including Zeng, arrested.

[…] But “the way that Chinese workers have been exploited in the past 30 years has now come to an end,” said CLB director Han Dongfeng, who is in exile in Hong Kong. “China now has a new generation of workers who will not back down to fight for their own rights.” [Source]

With a more connected and worldly working class, and a corresponding rise in worker unrest, the Chinese government is attempting to reinvigorate the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions to usurp the work of independent labor activists. From Dexter Roberts at Bloomberg:

Scaring labor activists into submission is part of the leadership’s strategy to tame unruly migrant workers. Increasingly educated and internet-savvy, these workers have taken to the streets over unpaid wages and social welfare benefits, as well as unsafe work conditions. The government is also working to supplant independent labor groups by reinvigorating the more than 200 million-strong All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), the only state-approved umbrella union. “The Communist Party is trying to get rid of the existing activists that have established social networks and destroy their legitimacy,” says Wang Kan, an expert on Chinese labor activism and a professor at the China Institute of Industrial Relations in Beijing. “They want to get rid of the troublemakers and buy themselves some time” while they reform the official union.

The labor groups have already faced harassment, particularly since President Xi Jinping took office in 2013. Zhang of the Chunfeng Labor Dispute Service Center has had to move his office more than a dozen times since police ordered landlords not to rent to his organization.

[…] At a top-level meeting in July 2015 on the work of China’s three largest mass organizations—the Communist Youth League, the All-China Women’s Federation, and the ACFTU—Xi harshly criticized the union for not properly carrying out its job, says Wang of the Institute of Industrial Relations. Mass organizations must avoid “being alienated from the people,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported Xi as saying. “They are caught in a very tough place,” says Aaron Halegua, a lawyer and research fellow at New York University’s U.S.-Asia Law Institute who recently wrote about the legal representation of Chinese workers. “On the one hand, the union is supposed to represent workers, but that must be done without actually empowering workers.” [Source]

Read more about workers and labor unrest in China, via CDT.


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