For the last week, miners in the far northeastern city of Shuangyashan have staged mass protests, taking to the streets to ask for unpaid wages and added job security in an economy in transition.
The Chinese Internet has been flooded with images of coal workers from the Heilongjiang Longmay Mining Holding Group marching through the streets with banners reading: “We must live, we must eat” and “CCP pay us our money.” Still other signs accuse the local government of telling lies to the media.
The protests were sparked by a comment made by Heilongjiang provincial governor Lu Hao at a National People’s Congress press conference in Beijing last week. Lu told members of the media that for Longmay workers “not a single penny was past due.” He was later forced to recant his statement, apologize and pledge to resolve the situation.
According to China Labor Bulletin, workers say that they haven’t been fully paid since November. Currently eight of the ten pits in Shuangyashan are only partially operational, meaning that when they do get paid, miners will likely only receive half of their 3,000 yuan monthly salary. But that means they will have it better than above-ground workers who have seen their monthly wages cut from 1,000 yuan to just 800 yuan.
At this month’s political meetings in Beijing, Yin Weimin, China’s minister for human resources and social security, announced plans to lay off 1.8 million workers in the coal and steel sectors in the next couple of years as the Chinese economy undergoes mass restructuring. However, insiders believe that this number could soar to as high as 6 million layoffs as China faces enormous challenges in the years ahead.
The main problem is that of industrial overcapacity built up especially during the Hu Jintao/Wen Jiabao era. Many bloated state-owned enterprises are now operating at a loss, or sometimes just not operating at all. These so-called “zombie industries” have shut down their operations, yet continue to pay their workers in order to save local governments from having to deal with the problems that come from high unemployment and large numbers of angry men without work. But eventually something has to give in China’s outdated rust-belt.
Such is the case for Longmay, which provides work for 224,000 people, but it is propped up by loans secured by the provincial government from reluctant local banks. To deal with this situation, Lu has said that the group plans to dismiss at least 50,000 workers over the next two to three years, but that number could easily reach 100,000, Reuters reports.
At the same time, the local government has stated that it will “strike firmly” against protest activities that are harmful to society, such as “blocking state railway lines, disrupting production activities, organizing joint actions and picking quarrels,” according to the SCMP.
Yesterday saw fewer miners take to the street due to the increased presence of security officers on patrol. Locals also report seeing workers being taken away by police.
Observers worry that the scenes currently playing out on the streets of Shuangyashan will soon spread across China as more and more state employees lose their livelihood. Check out this short documentary from The New York Times on what this means for workers:
[Images via Weibo]