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

When Shen Mengyu (沈夢雨) graduated with a master’s degree from a top Chinese university in 2015, she could have landed a comfortable job in government or at one of China’s Internet giants.

Instead, she went to work at an auto parts factory in Guangzhou, pursuing her interest in labor activism.

In May, she was fired for organizing workers at the plant. Undeterred, she began advocating for workers trying to form an autonomous trade union at Jasic International, a welding machinery exporter in nearby Shenzhen.

Shen is part of a cohort of activists across China who have been supporting and publicizing worker protests and detentions at a time of slowing economic growth.

The activists include students and recent graduates, as well as retired factory workers and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members.

While they appear to be small in number, the activists are drawing rare attention to calls for greater union representation from Chinese workers, particularly in the south, where demands for more pay are growing.

This unrest poses a challenge for the ruling CCP, which opposes independent labor action and punishes protesters. It also views the activists as a threat to its authority.

Shen last week told reporters that she believed authorities had been intimidating her parents to get her to stop her activism.

On Saturday night, after dining with her parents near the Jasic factory, Shen was bundled into a car by three unidentified men, two student activists from Peking University who were at the scene told reporters

“Mengyu was shouting: ‘What are you doing? Let me go, let me go,’” one of the students said. “Everything happened so quickly, we ran to get help and by the time we came back she and the car had disappeared.”

The students said they reported the abduction to the police, who doubted their account and refused to take down crucial parts of their statement.

They were also told that video cameras at the location of the incident were broken.

Calls to Shen and the police went unanswered on Monday.

Local police on Monday said on their official social media account that they had been in contact with Shen’s parents.

“This is a matter regarding a family dispute, it is not a kidnapping,” police said, without further explanation.

Reporters were unable to reach Shen’s parents.

Protests at the Jasic factory broke out early last month after seven workers attempting to form a union and elect their own leaders were laid off. On July 27, after two weeks of protests, police detained 29 people, including laid-off workers, their families and supporters.

Hundreds of Chinese university students penned open letters on social media in support of the workers and about 20 traveled to the city in Guangdong Province.

Unions in China have to register with the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions.

However, rights groups have said the federation is often more responsive to the demands of management than workers.

On Monday last week, about 50 student activists and supporters of the Jasic workers protested outside the police station where the workers were detained in Shenzhen.

“Lots of fellow students say: ‘This incident is about workers, what does this have to do with students?’ I’ll tell them one thing: Today’s students are tomorrow’s workers,” Yue Xin, a 22-year-old recent graduate of Peking University, said in a video from the protest that she shared online.

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