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Labor Unrest In China

As its economy continues to grow and income and social disparities become increasingly manifest, China is experiencing increased labor unrest. The Washington Post newspaper recently reported that in June, a strike turned into a protest at the Futai Textile Factory, located near the city of Guangzhou. Witnesses reported that several hundred police fired tear gas and swung truncheons against three-thousand workers. According to the Post, the workers chanted demands for higher pay and "pelted cars and buses with rocks, bricks and watermelon rinds."

Unrest has grown in recent years in part because of mismanagement, corruption, and the government's failure to raise living standards for the poorest Chinese. In addition, Chinese workers are denied basic rights or mechanisms to resolve grievances. Among other things, China's government refuses to permit the establishment of independent, free, and democratic labor unions that could serve as meaningful channels for workers' grievances. These grievances include forced overtime, unpaid wages, and other labor rights violations.

In March and April 2004, thousands of workers staged demonstrations at the Stella International shoe factories in Guangdong to protest excessive working hours, low pay, and poor food. Protesters smashed factory equipment and canteen facilities, and overturned cars. According to the U.S. State Department, more than seventy-five workers involved in those protests -- including three under the age of eighteen -- were detained on charges of destruction of property.

As the Washington Post reported, "there are thousands of such explosions every year by farmers who lose their land, workers who get laid off and villagers who feel cheated by corrupt officials." In November, the bereaved relatives of one-hundred-sixty-six miners killed by a gas explosion in a Shaanxi province coalmine stormed the offices of the mine and the local government. Farmers angry over pollution attacked a pharmaceutical plant in eastern China, capping protests that began July 4th.

The increase in unrest is due largely to the lack of a rule of law and an independent judiciary in China. China has advanced economically and socially during the last twenty years. But it needs to take steps that would include respecting the basic rights of workers to organize, to demand better pay and working conditions, and to strike. As President George W. Bush said, "lasting prosperity requires freedom of speech, freedom to worship [and] freedom of association."

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.