Labor and Environmental Movements Make Progress in China

by Noah Simon | May 1, 2014

Yue Yuen Workers Strike in Dongguan

Yue Yuen Workers Strike in Dongguan

Recent campaigns in southern China have achieved significant gains following large-scale strikes and demonstrations. In Dongguan, thousands of factory workers for Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings will receive greater benefits after striking for over two weeks.

In Guangdong province, residents have delayed, and potentially reversed government plans to build a crematorium and a chemical plant. While these victories may only be short-term gains, Chinese citizens have shown corporations and local governments that there are significant costs if their demands are to be ignored.

Yue Yuen Shoe Factory Strike

Chinese shoe manufacturer Yue Yuen Industrial Holdings, a supplier of footwear for brands such as Nike and Adidas, has said a recent strike in the southern city of Dongguan has cost the company at least $60 million.

Thousands of workers first began their strike on April 14 to demand overdue payments on social security.

After two weeks of stoppage, Yue Yuen lost $27 million in production costs alone. Following negotiations with labor unions, the company has agreed to provide employees greater benefits, including an additional monthly living allowance of $36 per month, estimated to cost the company over $30 million in 2014. It will also make back payments on social insurance for workers.

More than 80% of workers have now returned to the factory. However, there are allegations that local authorities used intimidation tactics and arrests to coerce workers into returning.

An estimated 30,000 workers refused to work during the height of the strike. Activists claim it is the biggest worker’s strike in China since the late 1970s.

Environmental Demonstrations in Guangdong Province

According to the Global Times, production of a crematorium in Huazhou has been halted after thousands gathered to call for its cancellation. A local resident told the newspaper that, “the government will suspend the program and ask local citizens to keep away from illegal activities and maintain social stability”.

Residents had gathered on April 12 and continued to protest for days. One witness claimed that although there was a large police presence, officers refused to break up the demonstration.

Just a few days earlier, residents gathered in Maoming to demonstrate against government plans to build a chemical plant.

On March 30, a thousand residents displayed their objection to the production of paraxylene (also known as “PX”), a chemical used to make plastic bottles and fabrics.  Local residents do not trust that the government will properly handle the production of PX. They are also worried about the potential environmental and health impacts associated with the chemical.

Photos displayed on Weibo, China’s microblog service, showed a large crowd marching besides burning cars. Many images also showed protesters who were bloodied from clashes with police forces, but these images were quickly taken down.

Despite police violence, greater participants turned out to protest. A witness told Radio Free Asia that there were roughly 20,000 people gathered outside a government building a few days later.

The Maoming city government called the demonstration a “grave violation” that “seriously affects social order”. They claimed protesters were throwing rocks and bottles at police. At least 18 were arrested and are being charged with “disrupting public order”. There are also many allegations that police used disproportionate force, injuring and perhaps killing some protesters.

Nonetheless, it is unclear whether the construction of the chemical plan will go forward. An official said “a decision won’t be made before reaching a consensus with the public”.