Fri, Aug 17, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Student activists in China provide rare glimpse into rising unrest in workforce

By Sue-Lin Wong and Christian Shepherd  /  Reporters, BEIJING and SHENZHEN, China

Yue, a factory worker in southern China, gained prominence in April for pressing her university to make public an investigation into a decades-old rape and suicide case.

The people who traveled to Shenzhen have been facing pressure from their universities, parents and officials, according to nine activists interviewed by reporters.

“My university adviser has called me repeatedly, accusing me of being involved in illegal activities,” one activist from a Guangdong university said, adding that he had been told “to think very carefully about what I was doing and how it might impact my studies and my future.”

Some supporters were intercepted on their way to Shenzhen and sent home, the students said.

In interviews, some activists said they were motivated by growing inequality in China and read about worker protests on online forums before posts were removed by authorities.

They said they were also exposed to labor issues at student-run university clubs and reading groups.

“Both my parents are factory workers, so I have always had an interest in labor rights,” said one of the activists who saw Shen taken away.

The students often speak the same language of Marxist theory and egalitarianism used by the CCP, yet have found themselves at odds with authorities.

In November last year, Peking University graduate Zhang Yunfan was detained in Guangzhou after founding a reading group focused on improving the plight of factory workers.

In an online statement on July 29, Jasic denied mistreating workers or blocking their union, saying that it fired some workers in accordance with the law and that a union was being established.

Jasic did not respond to a faxed request for further comment.

Shenzhen police said a group of former Jasic workers who illegally entered the factory were being held for investigation.

The Shenzhen Ministry of Public Security and a detention center where the workers were being held did not respond to faxed requests for comment.

Authorities have been keeping close tabs on the factory workers, students and other supporters, according to interviews and eyewitness accounts.

The students — who are renting accommodation near the Jasic factory — have said that they have had to move three times after police pressured landlords to evict them.

People who appeared to be plainclothes police were keeping a close eye on the building where the activists were staying during a recent visit by reporters.

Police had also set up a fake factory recruitment stand outside the building and a mole infiltrated the group by posing as a former factory worker, the activists said.

Their claims could not be verified by reporters.

The factory workers and their supporters communicated with reporters through multiple telephone numbers and WeChat accounts that were continuously shut down.

China does not publish official statistics on numbers of worker protests and strikes.

Former workers at Jasic, which employs more than 1,000 people, have said conditions in the company’s factory are dire.

“Sometimes we would work for one month straight without any time off,” said 25-year-old Huang Lanfeng, a former Jasic employee who was detained for protesting. “They wouldn’t let us freely quit and they even watched us go to the toilet.”

“I’ve worked at a lot of factories and none were as bad as Jasic,” she added.

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