Police in China's industrial northeast detained three labor leaders yesterday after violent clashes in two cities with laid-off workers protesting over unpaid salaries and welfare benefits, witnesses said.
Several thousand workers laid off by state firms in Liaoyang and Daqing took to the streets yesterday in the latest protest highlighting mounting pressure on the Communist Party ahead of a looming leadership change.
Police seized three labor leaders in Liaoyang after thousands of workers braved driving rain to besiege city hall for a third day to demand back pay and the release of a spokesman detained on Sunday, protesters said.
In Daqing -- home to China's biggest oilfield -- a car was overturned as between 4,000 and 5,000 workers protested a day after several people were injured in clashes with paramilitary police, a police official said.
They were the latest in a rash of unusually large protests in China's northeastern "rust belt" over the last month that illustrate growing unrest among millions of workers laid off and stripped of cradle-to-grave welfare under state sector reforms.
Local people said the protests were the largest they could remember in Daqing and Liaoyang, and one prominent labor activist described them as the biggest in China since student-led demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.
China is bracing for further unrest as state firms need to shed tens of millions of jobs to face up to foreign competition following its entry to the WTO in December.
In Liaoyang, police seized Xiao Yunliang, Tang Qingxiang and Wang Zhaoming, three labor leaders from the city's bankrupt Ferroalloy Factory after some 10,000 workers thronged around government headquarters, protesters said.
Police let about 1,000 protesters inside the mostly empty building and locked a few chosen representatives into a room, but workers broke in the door and released them, they said.
"First, more than 20 plainclothes police attacked the group, tramping old retirees under their feet, and dragged away Xiao Yunliang. We could not stop them," a woman worker laid off from the Ferroalloy Factory, said.
"Minutes later, another group of about 100 uniformed police attacked us again, beat us up and hauled away Tang Qingxiang and Wang Zhaoming. Now almost all our leaders are gone, and we don't know what to do."
Local police and government officials declined to comment.