Chinese workers disgruntled over low pay and poor benefits have staged strikes and slowdowns while a few even have called for independent, Polish-style trade unions, a top labor official confirmed today.
Chen Yu, vice chairman of the All China Federation of Trade Unions, said that laborers emboldened by new "workers' congresses," designed to give them greater say in running their factories, have openly defied management over certain employment policies.
Growing labor militance in major industrial cities is said to alarm China's leaders who believe that social stability is necessary to improve the nation's struggling economy.
At a press conference, Chen stressed that China's labor problems are limited to a few cases and pose little threat of spending despite a new government austerity drive that is widely expected to increase unemployment and cut worker bonuses.
Conceding that some workers have talked for forming trade unions independent of the Communist Party, he said the movement is inspired by "a relative few" who have been influenced by radical thinking of the disgraced Gang of Four.
"There is no demand on the part of the working masses for independent trade nations," Chen said. "But we cannot say there are no people of this kind in a work force of 104 million. But they do not have the support of the working masses."
Instead, he insisted, the rank and file rally behind the official trade union, a powerless body subordinate to the party that is supported to protect welfare of Chinese workers although it does not even have the right to represent them in collective bargaining.
While trying to downplay the importance of labor dissidence, Chen acknowledged that a recent strike by laborers trying to increase their home leave prompted new government regulations for workers forced to take jobs in cities away from their families.
In February, workers in a heavy machinery plant in the northern city of Taiyuan who had been separated from their families for as long as 12 years stopped work for several days to demand an increase in the nation's maximum home leave of 20 days once a year.
After factory officials warned over the loudspeaker that strikers would be charged with provoking a riot unless they returned to work, the workers stepped up their demands and threatened to stage a Polish-style work stoppage, well-informed sources said.
Factory managers were instructed by Peking to move carefully against the strikers and the issue cooled down in early March when a new law was enacted increasing home leaves to twice a year with a maximum possible say of 60 days.
In his talk to reporters, Chen confirmed some details of the Taiyuan strike and cited other examples of labor unrest, which, he insisted, were all resolved without violence or intervention of police.
The quick management response in all these cases, said the union leader, shows that "the workers are the masters of the state and their enterprises."