Guangzhou Xinsheng Shoe Factory’s 115 workers have secured 1.03 million yuan’s compensation after three months’ persistent struggle with the factory, union and government.

Xinsheng workers demanded collective bargaining  on 6 October.

Xinsheng workers demanded collective bargaining on 6 October.

Guangzhou Xinsheng Shoe Factory’s 115 workers have secured 1.03 million yuan’s compensation after three months’ persistent struggle with the factory, local union and the government.

Upon knowing the factory’s closure and relocation plan in September, workers have started demanding legal compensation with the management, who in the beginning did not want to pay workers at all. The Chinese Labour Contract Law prescribes upon termination of the labour contract, the employer needs to pay workers contract severance compensation commensurate with workers’ years of service.

Workers elected their own representatives to talk with the factory, and sought support from local unions and municipal government. On 28 October, government officials ordered the relevant departments, including the labour inspection unit, to respect workers’ willingness to collective bargaining and order the factory to come to the negotiation table with workers.

Yet, workers deemed the provincial government stance as a “bait”. Till 22 November, the district-level government still refused to do anything, alleged saying they were not afraid of the provincial government.

In the meantime, workers were employing other strategies to urge the factory to talk with them, including staging a series of strikes and protests. Prior to a negotiation meeting on 3 November, two leading workers representatives, together with another 12 workers, were detained by police. Seven of them were charged with “sabotaging production and business operations”.

Workers were not hindered at all. Shortly after the arrest, 56 workers came to the provincial trade union to urge the release of the seven workers. On 27 November, workers visited the municipal legislature and got the support from the director of the local legislature.

“The director told us, the factory must give us what we deserve. There shouldn’t be any compromise or discount. We have more confidence now! We must save our representatives and fulfil our demands. We will unite and fight until the end!”

Workers were also savvy enough to use social media to garner social support. They set up a weibo account called “Xinsheng Shoe Factory Workers Defending Rights”, and started broadcasting with photos workers’ collective action and attitudes or responses from officials and the factory, including the brutal details of how the local police treat workers representatives.

“The hands and feet of our workers’ representative, Qin Qingmei, were bound. She was kept in a kneeling position. Her socks, trousers and ankles were all broken. We don’t know if her feet were injured. Several policemen pressed Zhu Anguo on the ground, very violently.”

Another workers’ weibo posted on 6 November claimed workers detained were denied visits and urged people from all walks of life to save them. This post was retweeted 164 times and received 33 comments, a big amount for a new grassroots weibo account like Xinsheng workers’.

Meanwhile, workers initiated a fundraising campaign on this social media platform on 14 November, and have raised over 16,000 yuan (around 1,669 pound) by 3 December, including 100 yuan from a provincial government official.

Xinsheng workers’ weibo also grabbed the attention of Yang Jinlin, a heavyweight media commentator and opinion leader on weibo. Yang retweeted Xinsheng workers’ weibo on urging the release of workers representatives to his 1.5 million followers on 29 November.

“Keep it up! (Workers) deserve justice,” Yang commented.

Workers’ strategies both online and offline have eventually been paid off, with support from labour rights lawyers and labour NGOs. The seven workers’ representatives were released after over 20 days’ detention. In their subsequent negotiation with the factory, both parties have reached a compensation settlement.

As to the secret for Xinsheng workers’ success, perhaps the signature of the workers’ weibo account summed it up the best, which are: solidarity, reasoning and persistence.


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Jennifer Zhang

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

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