By Jennifer Cheung   Photo credit goes to Jiayi Liu, China Labour Bulletin. “I hope my brother would be released, but there is little hope,” said Wu Guijun’s sister, Wu Guifang. With her is her sister-in-law, Wu Guijun’s wife, Zhou Yuzhi. They wer …

Jennifer Zhang Asia, China,

By Jennifer Cheung



Photo credit goes to Jiayi Liu, China Labour Bulletin.

“I hope my brother would be released, but there is little hope,” said Wu Guijun’s sister, Wu Guifang. With her is her sister-in-law, Wu Guijun’s wife, Zhou Yuzhi. They were in tears, but are also anxious about the day of the trial as this is the only chance they can see their brother and husband. They were told not to visit Wu Guijun over the last 100 days.

Wu was escorted by court police to the Defendant area and seated. Fatigued but high-spirited, he waved to the audience who had came to support him. They are former co-workers, labour NGOs, university students, and volunteers. Reporters were told not to bring audio recorders nor take notes during the procession. When his eyes spotted his wife in the auditorium, he told her from a distance, “Happy Birthday.”, his wife nodded in silence to signal she had gotten the message while in tears.

It has been nearly 11 months since the workers’ representative, Wu Guijun, was illegally detained by china’s government on the charge of illegal gathering of crowd to disturb transport order, he potentially faces a maximum sentence of a three year imprisonment. The prosecutor believes he planned, organised and instructed the workers’ march that disrupted transport order on May 23 last year in Shenzhen.

Wu’s immediate rebuttal to the charge was “My role as the workers’ representative is to represent workers’ to negotiate with management in a rational manner, rather than to instigate workers to block the traffic. Please do not confuse the two concepts.”

During the 5-hour long court hearing on April 4, the prosecutor presented 25 pieces of evidence including witness accounts, police records, and surveillance camera footage and images, but none of those convinced the audience that Wu is responsible for organising, planning or directing the workers’ demonstration on May 23, the climax of the 2 week long strike that was triggered by a plan of a Shenzhen furniture factory relocation and the company management’s refusal to pay workers’ due compensation.

Pang Kun, Wu’s lawyer, stressed the prosecutor should not allege Wu is the street march organiser based on the fact of that he is workers’ representative.

“The prosecutor is confusing the two concepts: Wu was chosen by the workers as their representative to talk with the company management about the plans. That does not mean he is the mastermind behind the march.”

The seven witnesses, all Wu’s former co-workers, introduced by Wu’s lawyer, stated very clearly that no one organised the five hour long street march on May 23. Workers decided to do so out of their own will and judgment. Several witnesses told the court that Wu attempted to persuade the workers not to take to the street but workers still decided to hold the march. Unable to stop the march Wu was in the group of workers who joined the march last.

Wu himself told the court: “I followed the workers to the street in case the march went out of control and the police detained workers. As a representative chosen by workers, I must always be there to support workers.”

Meng Fanqi, a collective bargaining expert who at the court acted as Wu’s second lawyer, told the court that workers’ leaders did not mean they have the right to dictate workers’ action. “Representatives listen to and gather workers’ demands, and negotiate such demands with the management. Workers can choose not to listen to their representatives. If they think their representative did not do a good enough job, they are free to select another one.”

However lame the evidence that was presented by the prosecutor, there is a very high chance that the administrative force would intervene in the judiciary process. The mindset of Chinese government in handling labour disputes is still in the primitive stage of maintaining stability.
Industrial actions are increasingly deemed as a huge threat to social stability as they have become a daily occurrence and may expand outside the factory in the forms of street marches, road blockage and sit-ins. Strikes as an extralegal matter are frequently quelled by armed force, and workers activists face the danger of being fired, administrative detention, or judiciary prosecution. Yet, so far China still does not have an effective collective bargaining mechanism to address the increasing number of labour conflicts between workers and employers.

“I hope the court can understand this is a labour dispute triggered march. Wu’s role as a workers’ representative is to mitigate the conflict, and reach a solution with the management through collective bargaining. It is the management who refused to talk to workers and that led to the escalation of workers’ action. Putting Wu into criminal charge is way too much,” Pang told the court.

Wu was full of emotions when he was asked to make his final statement. As an ordinary migrant worker facing state prosecution, he tried but still cannot hold his indignation.

“What we were trying to do is just to earn our due rights, and we expect our rights could be respected. But this turns out differently. During my detention, I was mocked by my inmates. They were robbers, thieves, or drug dealers. I think they are not only mocking me, but also mocking the people who still have justice and conscience in this society.”

After the march on May 23, a majority of workers chose to leave the factory, with a compensation of 400 yuan, far less than the legally stipulated amount. A female worker from Guangxi in her 40s told the court, “The factory gave us no options.”

Outside the court

A labour NGO worker in Shenzhen told USi he has been attending Wu’s trial since last November. Although he was a determined supporter of Wu, he was not optimistic about the prospect that Wu would be released. “The government has been detaining him for so long. If they release Wu without any convictions, Wu would definitely sue the government.”

When a migrant worker who works full-time as a security guard and part-time as a motor taxi driver heard about Wu’s trial, he told USi that the trial was ridiculous. “Workers are at a disadvantage. We are the society’s most vulnerable group. Anyone can charge us with anything.”

Today is Zhou’s birthday, after Wu’s detention, she becomes the only bread earner for the family surviving on less than 2000 yuan per month. She has two sons, one in primary school and the other in senior high school. “It would be good if Wu can be released before June, so that the elder son will know the good news and have a better performance during the college entrance exam,” she told a crowd of concerned people, while in tears, after seeing her husband was taken away by the court police.

USi will follow up the trial and the result of the hearing, which according to the judge, will be announced on a separate day. The judge told the court that another round of trial is also possible.

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Jennifer Zhang

Jennifer Zhang is USi’s China coordinator based in Hong Kong.

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