This week, USi talked to Wu Guijun, a former worker who was criminally detained for over a year before trial due to his leading role in a furniture factory in Shenzhen. He was then acquitted and released, and set up his own labour organisation to support labour activism. He shared with USi his view on the current labour movement in China, his new centre’s upcoming projects, and his observation on the official trade union.
USi: What do you think are the major challenges in 2014?
Wu: In the second half last year, the government took harsher action against workers’ industrial actions. Previously workers would be allowed to peacefully protest within the factory as long as they did not go out to block road or demolish machines. But since latter last year, workers who staged friendly strikes inside the factory got beaten or even arrested by local police, as seen in the cases of Xinsheng and Artigas. The situation is getting worse this year.
USi: After the prolonged and unfair detention you endured, do you still plan to lead workers’ activism?
Wu: Of course. I have actually registered my own labour NGO for that.
USi: That is really a big move, especially amid the authorities’ recent clampdown on famous labour NGOs. What is the name of your new organisation, and do you mind sharing with us what projects you would like to take on?
Wu: It’s called New Labour Billions (‘xin gong yi’, or ‘新工亿’). My original thought is New Workers (in Chinese ‘xin gong ren’, or ‘新工人’). But this name is too sensitive.
We will carry out two major projects in the centre. One is media training. The centre will teach workers how to take photos and videos, because we need to keep a good record of workers’ protests and strikes and learn from our past experiences. We also want to show workers how to use new media, such as Weibo and WeChat, to get their messages out to the public.
The other project is to cultivate worker leaders and activists. We plan to organise workshops for workers to learn more about the history of labour movement, and share strategies on how to unite workers and build solidarity, and how to negotiate with government officials and employers.
USi: You mean your centre would intervene in strikes and provide strategic consultation for workers? Wouldn’t that involve risks?
Wu: Yes. But we won’t stop doing it because of risks. We sincerely hope to help our workers (in getting their deserved rights and benefits).
USi: Right. What about the official trade union, or ACFTU? What’s your observation on them?
Wu: The ACFTU has become too bureaucratic for workers. They seldom do anything to support workers’ demands. Although we do suggest workers to seek the official union for help, workers’ efforts are often in vain.
In certain cases, the official union even represents the employer to negotiate with workers. For instance, in the ongoing labour dispute at Artigas, the district-level trade union officials were actually bargaining with workers on Artigas’ behalf. That’s probably the reason why the ACFTU doesn’t enjoy much popularity among workers.
USi: The Artigas workers’ protest has been going on for over three months. What are the major obstacles for workers?
Wu: Workers have more than one demand and it takes time to reach a final agreement with the factory. For instance, workers need body check to determine whether they contracted any occupational disease during working for Artigas.
Also, workers have different requests and it is difficult to unify those demands. Senior workers may want the factory to pay back their social insurance premiums, but social insurance is not a major concern for young workers.
In addition, last year the government arrested dozens of workers’ representatives for holding protests in Artigas. Those arrests have definitely intimated other workers and made it hard to re-build workers’ solidarity.
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