U.S. fleet in South China Sea
The ORGANIZER Newsletter
Special International Supplement
Issue No. 69 – July 15, 2022
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IN THIS ISSUE :
• RUSSIA: “May the death of every soldier killed in this unjust war remain on your conscience” – a soldier’s wife (reprinted from IWC Newsletter no. 216)
• SRI LANKA: “The president is gone, Let the institutions that he was at the center of go with him!” (reprinted from IWC Newsletter no. 216)
• CHINA DOSSIER:
• China’s Role in the Current International Situation – By Alain Frandor (reprinted from The Internationale Nos. 26-27, June 2022)
• China: “Residents’ self-help action carries powerful organizing power” — A.F.
• The China Newsletter, Issue Number 578 – June 1, 2022
• Looking Back on June 4, 1989
• “It might be a good idea to consider forming unions …” (excerpts from an article in the South China Morning Post – April 26, 2022)
• Hong Kong Crackdown
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“May the death of every soldier killed in this unjust war remain on your conscience” – a soldier’s wife
(reprinted from IWC Newsletter no. 216)
Our correspondents in Russia have provided the following information
Patriarch Kirill, head of the Orthodox Church, whose personal fortune is estimated at more than $4 billion, is one of the Putin regime’s main spokespersons in its war propaganda. He has just made a revealing statement: “The contradictions that exist in any society between, as they used to say, social classes … must take a back seat today, because the solidarity of all the people must come first.“
The class struggle worries the head of the Church… and for good reason! The war in which Putin’s regime and the oligarchs are engaged is beginning to cost the workers dearly. After the bill to ban all demonstrations, the Duma (Parliament) has been asked to approve a bill allowing the government to lift restrictions on overtime work. If passed, the bill would allow employees to be forced to work weekends, holidays and nights as well, to reprogram their vacations without their consent, to cancel part of their paid leave and not to replace overtime with compensatory rest.
The bill states that these changes will primarily affect the military industry, but as a practical matter, these new measures can be applied in any business. “There is no other explanation for this, except to impose overexploitation of the workforce,” commented the vice president of the Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR), Oleg Shein.
But in addition to the Orthodox Church, the Kremlin knows that it can count on the support of the “Communist” Party (KPRF). In his report to the plenum of the central committee just held in Moscow, KPRF Secretary Zyuganov reaffirmed his support for the war: “In accordance with its political guidelines, the KPRF has supported the special military operation to protect the Donbass and liberate Ukraine.” But things are not so simple: a recent poll published by Russian Field indicates that 40% of party supporters disapprove of the military intervention in Ukraine.
Despite the repression and the outburst of patriotic propaganda, the resistance to the war continues. In Ufa (Bashkorkostan), a soldier’s mother demonstrated in front of the military recruitment office with a sign opposing the sending of conscripts to the “front lines.” In St. Petersburg, a high school student held up a “No to War” sign during a graduation ceremony at one of the city’s high schools.
Unusually, in both cases, no retaliation was reported. Even more significant: In a collective video of soldiers’ wives in the Republic of Buryatia (one of the poorest regions, which is breaking records for the number of soldiers killed in Ukraine) the wives are demanding that their husbands be demobilized from the front. “Let the death of every soldier killed in this unjust war remain on your conscience,” stated one of them, addressing the governor.
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“The president is gone, Let the institutions that he was at the center of go with him!”
(reprinted from IWC Newsletter no. 216)
The people of Sri Lanka – in the unity of its Sinhalese and Tamil components (see sidebar article) – have driven the corrupt president from power. At the heart of this mobilization was the working class, which, through its historic strike on May 6, set into motion the movement that would lead to the storming of the presidential palace on July 9.
The people have risen up because they are living in tragic times. Everything is running out (medicine, food, electricity). When they revolted, the regime responded with repression. But like all the peoples of the world, the Sri Lankans want to live. The hunger riot drove the corrupt out of power. This success belongs to the workers and the young people. In the demonstrations, one slogan emerged: “74 years is enough!”
One of our correspondents explains why: “74 years ago, in 1948, the long struggle of our people for independence – which was part of the same struggle of the peoples of the subcontinent – was confiscated. To achieve real independence, it was necessary to advance toward a total break with imperialism.”
It is a fact that Sri Lanka has been brought to its knees by decisions taken outside the country.
In the aftermath of the terrible tsunami of 2004, the U.S. Secretary of State was brazen enough to say, “This is a wonderful opportunity for the United States, and I think it will pay off in big dividends for us.” Since then, the country’s dependence on international institutions has increased. A gradual “recolonization” of the island has gradually taken hold. After the establishment of “special economic zones” (SEZ) exempt from the laws of the country, entire ports were conceded, and the entire country was placed under the dependence of the IMF.
The country is strangled by a foreign debt of $51 billion. The country must have all its financial resources at its disposal to rebuild itself. The debt – which is not the people’s debt – must be cancelled. How can electricity be restored, how can medicines be bought and produced, if billions of dollars have to be paid to the IMF? How can the country be supplied if its resources are used to fill the coffers of the IMF?
The president and the prime minister have had to resign. And on all sides in the circles of power, from Washington to Colombo, they are trying to ensure the survival of the institutions that have allowed the corruption to develop, that have authorized the plundering of the country. An activist preparing the Open World Conference for a Workers’ International (*) said:
“The president is gone. Let the institutions that he was at the center of go with him. The people have managed to defy the forces of repression. They have the capacity to take the destiny of the country into their own hands. It is now time to build the institutions that will truly ensure national sovereignty. It is time for a Constituent Assembly to meet, supported by the formidable mobilization of the people, neighborhood committees, and the trade unions, to freely define the destiny of the country.”
(*) On October 29 and 30, 2022, in response to the call of activists and organizations from more than 50 countries, an Open World Conference against War and Exploitation will be held in Paris, for a Workers’ International, preceded by an International Conference of Working Women.
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China’s Role in the Current International Situation
(reprinted from The Internationale Nos. 26-27, June 2022)
By Alain Frandor
The outbreak of war in Ukraine has suddenly altered all international relations. However, the new world situation resulting from the military conflict between – as stated in the OCRFI’s Declaration of February 28, 2022 – U.S. imperialism and its NATO allies and Putin’s Russian regime is part of the international framework that existed before the conflict: the dead-end reached by the system of capitalist exploitation globally (1).
Does this upheaval alter the role played by China and its system? Is it no longer the main target of imperialism’s aggressive policy? There is plenty of commentary on this. For some, it all boils down to an agreement between the Russian and Chinese regimes aimed at forming a solid bloc against the hegemonic pretensions of the United States. For others, the war in Ukraine offers China opportunities to re-establish its role as a factor of international order by facilitating negotiations between Russia and the U.S. For many, the current crisis will, in any case, give the Chinese regime a respite as U.S. imperialism and its allies are forced to change their priorities. What is the reality?
We must return to the fundamental path of the situation’s development. It is the profound crisis of the system of capitalist exploitation globally and the deepening of its tendencies to decay which are at the root of the current situation. The desire to open up the Chinese market completely and without limit – which would necessarily entail calling into question a system whose foundations are based on state ownership – is at the root of the multi-faceted attempts to encircle China, to ramp up economic, diplomatic and military pressure (which includes the possibility of resorting to open warfare), and stems from the same causes: the dead-end reached by the capitalist system. This is the axis of imperialism’s whole policy towards China.
One of the United States’ most respected commentators on the international situation, Fareed Zakaria, a contributor to Foreign Affairs magazine, sums up the situation created by the war in Ukraine as follows: “We have left the old world in which economics dominated politics for thirty years. From now on, politics takes priority.” This is a good time to recall Trotsky’s formulation that “politics is a concentrated expression of economics.” In other words, it is, on the contrary, the determining character of the economy (the crisis of decaying imperialism) which imposes the current “politics”, i.e. the need to bring to the fore the relations of force (including military ones) in order to try to maintain the system of capitalist exploitation internationally – even if they momentarily clash with particular capitalist interests, for example those of the multinationals that have invested in China. Hence the undermining of the whole set of relations which have regulated relations between imperialism and the Chinese bureaucracy up to now.
This is why, despite the Biden administration’s considerable expenditure to win in Ukraine, the last few weeks have not seen a slowing down of measures against China. As The Economist – the weekly magazine of some of the most influential circles of British financial capitalism – has pointed out, one of the aims of the war in Ukraine was to ensure that tomorrow, U.S. imperialism would have a free hand in dealing with the challenge posed by China.
The response of the Chinese leadership
The intensified pressure of imperialism is expressed, among other things, in recent weeks by the demand that the Chinese regime abandon all support for Putin’s regime. What is the response of the bureaucratic caste that occupies all political power in China? What guides it is its instinct to protect its own interests, i.e., its power, and not to ensure, in any form, a so-called “anti-imperialist alliance” in common with Russia. Instead, it has been a matter of asserting China’s role and attempting to maneuver diplomatically between the two protagonists. This was first marked by China’s vote at the UN: the Chinese government did not oppose the U.S. resolution condemning Russia, and its UN representation merely abstained. However, the Chinese government is fundamentally opposed to any sanctions against Russia, as these would also hit the Chinese economy.
This diplomatic approach, combining an assertion of neutrality in relation to the conflict in Ukraine and a refusal – at this stage – to see China totally subjected to the diktats of imperialism, is contradictory to the objectives of U.S. imperialism and can only lead to a worsening of its relationship with China.
In December 2021, the U.S. Congress, i.e., the House of Representatives and the Senate, passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022, which set the amounts of the U.S. military budget. It amounts to US$768 billion, the highest figure in history.
This Act, which was passed by both Republican and Democratic Party representatives, contains a detailed plan to surround China with a network of U.S. military bases, in combination with the military forces of regional partner states (e.g., those in the Quad agreement between Japan, Australia, India and the U.S). This opens the way for a real stranglehold on China.
In the course of the discussion, the amounts authorized by Congress were increased compared to the initial proposal (with the approval of both Democratic and Republican representatives), particularly with regard to initiatives directly aimed at China. For example, US$7.1 billion was allocated to the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, a program launched to “strengthen U.S. and allied forces in the Pacific.”
Since then, following the war in Ukraine, the pace of events has accelerated.
On May 14, a Summit of Foreign Ministers of the G7 (the seven major capitalist powers) took place. The final joint communiqué addressed “the current strategic situation” and consisted of dictating to the rest of the world. One passage was devoted to warning the Chinese government on all issues, including freedom of movement in the South China Sea and its support for the Russian government: “We stress that there is no legal basis for China’s expansive maritime claims in the South China Sea. (…) We call on China not to assist Russia in its war of aggression against Ukraine, not to undermine sanctions imposed on Russia (…).”
On May 17, on the eve of Biden’s departure for a tour of Asia, a Financial Times editorial hammered home the point: “Whatever Russia does in Ukraine, the China threat is still Joe Biden’s priority.”
On May 24, the leaders of the Quad states met in Tokyo. Biden declared that China is “flirting with danger” and announced that the U.S. was prepared to intervene directly in the event of a Chinese conflict with Taiwan.
Within hours, Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australia’s new leader Anthony Albanese were working to transform what had been an informal alliance into a united bloc against China.
Biden emphasized the growing importance of the Quad, saying that “in a short period of time, we’ve shown that Quad is not just a passing fad, we mean business.”
Supporting him, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said: “As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is shaking the fundamental principles of the international order … the leaders of the U.S., India, Australia and I confirmed that unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force will never be tolerated anywhere, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.” Practical translation: The Quad is launching a new initiative to strengthen maritime surveillance of Chinese activities in the region.
And with the stated aim of countering China, the four Quad leaders decide to invest at least US$50 billion over five years in infrastructure projects in the Asia-Pacific region.
This increased pressure from imperialism is leading to differentiations within the bureaucracy itself, which tend to be expressed – albeit in a muted way – in the official Chinese press as well as in statements by government officials.
For example, in the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, an editorial published on April 27 denounced the “coercive diplomacy” used by the United States “to achieve its strategic goal of limiting China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region and the world. … If some American politicians like to talk about a ‘rules-based international order,’ it is to present themselves as its defenders. But what they call ‘rules’ are in fact only those that bind together the members of their own clan, for their own benefit … . What they seek to defend is their own hegemony, ignoring the evolution of the world and the reality of international relations. … If there is one country that does not hesitate to jeopardize the international order and trample on its rules, it is the United States. Didn’t it bomb Yugoslavia and invade Iraq and Syria without the approval of the UN Security Council? Deaf to Russia’s security concerns, it used NATO to exacerbate regional tensions. After the outbreak of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, without taking into account the difficulties of the global economic recovery and the plight of the people, they unilaterally increased sanctions.”
Of course, one has to take into account the rhetoric (which can change overnight) intended both internally and for use externally as a component of diplomatic maneuvers. The fact remains, however, that this is an affirmation of a willingness not to yield to U.S. injunctions.
At the same time, other voices were being heard. Thus, on March 14, a briefing written by Hu Wei, a political science researcher at Premier Li Keqiang’s analysis center (2), concluded that “China could not remain close to Putin, with whom ties should be cut as quickly as possible”.
The ruling bureaucracy destabilized
It would be unwise to conclude that there are already clear currents within the bureaucracy that hold different positions on what China should do. It is certain, however, that the sharpening of all the contradictions that exist internationally is tending to destabilize the ruling bureaucracy, and is creating cracks in the highest levels of power.
The new developments in the world situation – and thus in China itself – cannot be separated from elements already formed in the previous period , and this applies to the problems posed to the power of the bureaucracy in China.
In a recent report on the economic situation in Asia – the main part of which is an analysis of the Chinese economy – the World Bank noted: “Just as the East Asia and Pacific (EAP) region was weathering recurrent COVID storms, three new clouds have gathered over the economic horizon: financial tightening in the U.S., structural slowdown in China, and the war in Ukraine.” 
It is not possible here to go into the details of economic developments in China. But it should be noted that all commentaries and analyses are pointing to a slowdown in production in China, whereas economic development – GDP growth – was a key factor not only in maintaining economic activity at the global level, but also in maintaining a certain social stability in China, the very effectiveness of the power of the bureaucracy in controlling China’s working population.
Of course, China’s official statistics have always raised questions about their reliability. However, they have been indicative of trends. So, the fact that today we are talking about an annual GDP growth of 4.5 percent, and not the 7 percent or 8 percent previously announced, means a decline in employment and thus a rise in unemployment, an inability to integrate a growing proportion of young people into production, with all this means for maintaining a certain degree of social stability.
To give just one example, the head of one of Hong Kong’s major private equity funds, Weijian Shan, noted (Financial Times, April 28) that “the Chinese economy at this moment is in the worst shape in the past 30 years” and that “popular discontent” is at its highest level since the 1990s. The Chinese economy is directly affected by developments in the global economy, and this is directly reflected in the decline in exports. But this reality also shows the consequences of all the measures taken against China by U.S. imperialism.
Finally, one of the factors in the current slowdown is the impact of the Covid epidemic and the way the Chinese authorities have responded to it. This is a complex issue. Indeed, it is undeniable that the measures taken at the start of the epidemic prevented a catastrophic development of the epidemic. In the denunciation by all imperialist governments of China’s “zero Covid” strategy, there was a wish to justify their own imperialism. Today, the resurgence of the epidemic in China has led to a total lockdown that has lasted for weeks in Shanghai, while threats of a similar lockdown exist in Beijing; and in general, these measures, which hinder the functioning of the economy, are increasingly provoking the anger of the populations subjected to an extremely strict regime of isolation and control in intolerable conditions of rationing.
What this shows in relation to the pandemic and the means of dealing with it goes to the very power of the bureaucracy. Backed by the maintenance of state ownership of the essential means of production, the Chinese government has had at its disposal more effective means than the most advanced imperialist powers, but these means, far from being put to the service of the working population, have been used in the context of intensified police rigor, directly opposing in this particular field – as in all the others – any democratic expression by the workers. And this is an understatement, since the terror inspired in the bureaucracy by any independent activity of the masses has led it to stifle the spontaneous movement which, at the beginning of the pandemic, had seen young people in particular take things in hand, mobilizing to bring aid to migrant workers, support hospital workers, help supply the isolated people with food, etc. This was unbearable for the party apparatus. Therein lies “the wholly counter-revolutionary and anti-worker character of the Chinese bureaucracy”, as the OCRFI’s Declaration put it.
This is true in all domains, especially in the area of defending China’s sovereignty and independence from imperialism. As the title of the article in Issue No.24 of The Internationale put it: “Only the freely organized Chinese working class can defend China’s sovereignty and the gains of the Revolution.”
This is why the struggle of workers throughout China (which includes Hong Kong), their struggle to defend their right to organize freely, the struggle against repression and in defense of freedoms occupy an essential place in the resistance to imperialism.
 For the full text of the OCRFI Declaration, see Issue No.25 (February 2022) of The Internationale.
 In 2012, Li Keqiang oversaw the drafting of a joint report with the World Bank entitled “China 2030: Building a Modern, Harmonious, and Creative Society”.
 See “Only the freely organised Chinese working class can defend China’s sovereignty and the gains of the Revolution” by Alain Frandor in Issue No.24 (November 2021) of The Internationale.
 “Braving the Storms”, East Asia and Pacific Economic Update, April 2022.
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CHINA: “Residents’ self-help action carries powerful organizing power”
As soon as the invasion of Ukraine began, more than 1,000 Hong Kong students signed a statement: “We oppose not only Putin’s military aggression, but also NATO, which led to the crisis in Ukraine; we stand in solidarity with the thousands of anti-war demonstrators in Russia and aspire to an internationalist anti-war stance.”
Thousands upon thousands of Chinese internet users have expressed and are continuing to express their opinions on social networks, and are discussing the reasons for this war; but also unemployment, working conditions, the scandalous practices of the bosses and the politics of the bureaucrats. This is happening despite the censorship and repression that has eliminated the large battalions of unions that were independent of the government in Hong Kong and a large part of the workers’ support centres in mainland China. There are many examples, however, of organizational activity, especially among the youth. During the trial of a Maoist activist earlier this year, it was revealed that the as-yet-unknown group to which he belonged had managed to publish 1,100 so-called “subversive” articles read by 30,000 friends on WeChat, the main social network.
We also know that at the start of the Covid pandemic, informal networks of tens or sometimes hundreds of young people took charge of solidarity operations with migrant workers left behind by the official authorities, of assistance to overworked hospital workers, of self-organization. This was repeated recently under even more difficult conditions during the total lockdown of Shanghai, with initiatives to provide practical help to residents and autonomous neighborhood committees springing up that drove out the useless officials.
This multi-faceted activity is based on the will to resist oppression and exploitation of workers, especially by the youth. One of the new characteristics of the protest movements, demonstrations and strikes is the geographical expansion of these movements: previously, they were confined to the three or four large coastal provinces of the country; now they affect some 20 provinces out of 30, i.e., the majority of the provinces that dominate economic activity.
This is the case, for example, with the delivery workers’ strikes at the beginning of the year, but the sector most affected is construction and building sites, in addition to railway sites, various municipal projects and public enterprises, where the most common demand is that of payment of wage arrears.
The example of the more than 300 construction workers who protested in January in Zhengzhou (Henan province), simply to get paid months of back-pay owed and who publicly accused the directors of the state administrations of being incompetent, reveals another feature that is becoming common: they had appointed their delegates to spend weeks trying to collect the back-pay.
This tendency towards self-organization is a somewhat more general feature of the situation. It can be found among the population in the face of the pandemic and the authoritarian measures of the authorities. When neighborhood committees are overtaken or decimated by the epidemic, they are replaced by groups of volunteers on platforms created outside the private giants and managed autonomously (needs for food, medicine, deliveries, neighborhood status: rate and nature of restrictions). In Shanghai, for example, one neighborhood committee (a Communist Party committee supervising the residents of one or more buildings) tried to organize the residents to shout at one point: “We are all grateful to the municipality”, but instead, what was heard from the windows was: “You bunch of bastards and idiots from the neighborhood committee.” Some of the committees abandoned their tasks due to the scale of the event and the lack of resources, food and medicine.
“Elsewhere, residents took matters into their own hands, bypassing the official committee and organizing themselves. They undertook to distribute the resources independently, as the residents were not satisfied with the distribution by the official committee. So they chased them out of the neighborhood to organize the distribution themselves,” reads one account received by the International Solidarity Commission of the Labour and Democratic Movement (which has been doing solidarity work with Chinese workers for more than 30 years).
The group organized the distribution of collectively purchased goods and distributed Covid self-tests via the social networking site WeChat. The committee provided residents with telephone numbers for a hotline, information on the distinction between “closed” and simply “controlled” buildings where Covid cases had been identified, and ways to obtain medication when deliveries failed. “When the self-help action of residents is combined with the open and shared nature of the internet, it carries a powerful organizing power,” one of the organizers said.
These facts reflect – admittedly, still in a limited way – the will of working people to take their affairs into their own hands independently of the authorities.
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THE CHINA NEWSLETTER
Issue Number 578,
June 1, 2022
On June 4, 1989, after a month and a half of diverse student and worker protests in China’s major cities, the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party – whose shaken power at the top of the State was wavering – ordered the People’s Army to fire on the people to evacuate occupied Tian Anmen Square and terrorize Beijing and others. It was a massacre.
Any commemoration of that June 4 is forbidden, even in Hong Kong now, where it was a tradition for tens or hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers to express their condemnation of that barbaric act. The government sent the organizers of these rallies, Lee Cheuk-yan, Albert Ho and Chow Hang-tung, to prison. Books on Tian Anmen were removed from libraries, memorials destroyed, activists arrested. And the police warned Hong Kongers that they could face five years in prison if they gathered “illegally.”
Yet … though many police patrols occupied the streets of Hong Kong, youth were seen walking around often dressed in black, some phones were lit, candles were noticed in some places and a photo shows Leo Tang, the former vice president of the independent trade union confederation HKCTU, wearing a T-shirt with the front page of the newspaper “Wen Wei Po”, the unofficial organ of the Chinese Communist Party in Hong Kong, with this headline: “Army and police force their way into Tian Anmen Square with machine guns. The blood of hundreds of citizens covers Chang’an Avenue in the capital.”
Yet … thousands of young people in mainland China freely discussed in a chat room in February 2021 “the bloody 1989 crackdown on Tian Anmen Square.” Cai Chongguo, a student leader during the protests, spoke for about four hours, sharing his stories and answering questions from thousands. He said he did not expect so many people to be interested. (News24, February 9, 2021).
Hong Kong scholar J.-P. Cabestan (“Asianyst,” May 29) believes that “the subjugation of Hong Kong is both a manifestation of [Beijing’s power] and an admission of weakness, because to see Hong Kong as a base for subversion shows that this regime is not very sure of its future, that the slightest criticism is seen as a threat to its stability.
The great fear that struck this social layer in power in 1989 lies both in the unpredictable nature of the outpouring and in the ability of Chinese youth and workers to build organizations of their own to take their affairs in hand, and thus to push aside those who have become accustomed to deciding for them and against them. Thus, the first act of the striking students in April 1989 was to form a new union, relegating the official union to the scrap heap, just as workers built first the Autonomous Federation of Peking Workers and then other workers’ organizations. This issue of The China Newsletter looks back at these turning points through a contribution from a correspondent (see below).
This means that we have to pay attention to the manifestations of self-organization, especially through social networks. The students in Beijing did not need anyone to decide to go on a demonstration of several hundred people to demand the demolition of the Covid fence that was isolating Peking University. On May 25, a campus closure was announced, and students were encouraged to return home.
In Hong Kong, in this difficult situation where the government has got rid of independent unions, it is once again the food delivery workers who are defending their working conditions: more than 150 Foodpanda food delivery workers signed a petition at the end of May asking the management for a change in the delivery application following an altercation between a delivery worker and a manager of the supplier Pandamart. A delegation visited Foodpanda headquarters. A spokeswoman for a Delivery Advocacy Group said that “more than 1,500 delivery drivers participated in an online focus group on rules reform, because too often a single driver’s load exceeds official standards.”
The situation is “serious.” Premier Li Keqiang has been insisting for months. On May 19, in Yunnan Province, he held a symposium with officials from 12 provinces to stabilize growth and prevent unemployment from becoming a problem. On May 25, he held a special meeting with more than 100,000 Communist Party cadres in leading positions in state administrations, at which he sounded the alarm about the dire state of the economy and urged cadres to redouble their efforts.
“The headline in the Washington Post (May 26) was “No time to lose,” expressing great concern. The head of a major Hong Kong investment fund, Weijian Shan, recently noted (Financial Times, April 28) that “China’s economy is in the worst shape in 30 years” and that “popular discontent” is at its worst since the 1990s. Massive unemployment affects young people, and layoffs continue in the technology sector: the giant Tencent is laying off massively because its results are not as good. The online question-and-answer platform Zhihu has laid off up to 30% of its staff.
Which unions? An article in the South China Morning Post describes this situation of unemployment for skilled workers in the technology sector (see below). Can it continue without the risk of social instability? It is worth recalling here the initiative “Workers’ Lives Matter”, taken by young engineers on the social network of Zhihu last October to denounce the overexploitation of the “996” (working from 9 am to 9 pm 6 days a week) and to demand the “955”, which is provided for in the labor law. The initiative had generated great enthusiasm and contributions from thousands of young people in the sector. The article in the newspaper concludes with the question: Would it not be better to consider the question of unions that are not completely independent, since this is forbidden, but unions that are not as dependent on the bosses as they are today?
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Looking Back at June 4, 1989
The two weeks before the massacre of June 4, 1989 …
“The Autonomous Federation of Beijing Workers formed in the student-occupied Tian Anmen Square comprised only a small group of a few dozen workers discussing the situation. But from May 13, 1989, and then from the proclamation of martial law by the authorities on May 20, the participation of the workers increased”, writes Yueran Zhang in a contribution to a collective work (“Proletarian China”). Here are some excerpts.
The enthusiasm of the workers was noticeable not only by their increasing participation but by the fact that they began to organize their own rallies and demonstrations, displaying their own banners and slogans. From that moment on, the workers became an essential force in the movement. And the Peking Workers’ Autonomous Federation began to make itself known publicly and to recruit members in large numbers.
As the army regiments stationed in the vicinity marched on Peking from all sides, a tide of workers and working-class people from the suburbs of Peking began to flood the streets, trying to stop the military advance. The workers erected barricades, gathering to form human walls. They brought water and food to the soldiers to fraternize and convince them to give up their weapons and not to resume their march. One witness saw, the night after the imposition of martial law, hundreds of people from the working-class neighborhoods take to the streets and stop about 30 military trucks.
This action was absolutely spontaneous, the people did not know each other. They were so tense that they didn’t dare to take a flashlight. They were walking in the dark, with bricks in their hands to defend themselves, not knowing how the soldiers would receive them. Fortunately, the soldiers did not have their weapons, so a long and very moving dialogue began. In other words, it was the workers, not the students, who were confronted with the most powerful repressive apparatus of the State. And the workers were victorious, at least for the time being: the army was prevented from entering central Beijing for two weeks.
Thus, as Rosa Luxemburg had written, the radical consciousness of the workers grows in the course of the struggle itself. The events of 1989 in China confirm this. During this battle to stop the army, the workers began to become aware of the power of their organization and their spontaneous action. A gigantic movement of self-organization followed. The membership of the Beijing Workers’ Autonomous Federation soared, and other workers’ organizations, both inside and outside the workplace, sprang up like mushrooms after a rain.
The growth of these workers’ organizations led to a radicalization of action. Workers began to organize quasi-militias, picket lines, and “brave-the-dead” brigades. These quasi-militias were also responsible for maintaining public order to avoid giving a pretext for military intervention. …
At the same time, the Beijing workers built many more barricades and fortifications in the streets. In many factories, they organized strikes and slowed down production. Li Peng, the Premier at the time, later wrote in his memoirs that by the end of May, rumors were circulating that the 100,000 or so workers at the Capital Steel plant were planning to strike, which destabilized the Communist Party leadership. The steel plant was one of the largest industrial plants in Beijing at the time, and if the workers there decided to strike, then it was possible that a wider strike would be called. The possibility of a general strike could be considered. [To be continued.]
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“It might be a good idea to consider forming unions …”
Excerpts from an article in the South China Morning Post (April 26, 2022)
Chinese technology companies are savagely slashing workforces, but there seems to be little resistance from the affected workers. It’s certainly not because they are happy to be laid off. In fact, many say they were notified by a short letter with take-it-or-leave-it compensation, with no opportunity to negotiate. Most companies have presented these layoffs as restructuring or “optimization” and few have revealed their exact number.
The silence of these dismissed workers is not the result of any gratitude, but rather the absence of collective bargaining power. … In the past, for these highly skilled technology workers, the end of a contract often led to finding a new one with better pay. But this has begun to change in the last two years. Excessive working hours and enormous pressure have become the rule, and the “996” has taken hold. And in some extreme cases, overworked employees in their twenties have ended up in hospital or even died.
The workforce in this sector has shrunk and layoffs have become commonplace. Those who have been laid off – particularly workers aged 35 and over – often have difficulty finding new work, and when they do, the pay is often much lower than before. As employment in this tech sector becomes more common, it might be a good idea to consider forming unions to better protect workers’ rights. And since China does not allow independent unions, perhaps the creation of unions that are at least not under the influence of corporate management could make a difference.
In the United States, a team of Amazon workers in a New York warehouse won the right to form a union by vote, the first in the company. While the political and economic environment in China is different, the demand for better protection against “optimization” is just as real for tech workers.
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Hong Kong Crackdown
As of May 25, 186 people have been arrested for committing acts and participating in activities that endanger national security, according to the Security Bureau. Of these, 35 were arrested under the crime ordinance offense of sedition. Five companies were also charged with offenses that endanger national security, authorities said.
A Hong Kong computer technician, for example, was sentenced on May 19 to six and a half years in prison for running a public chat channel on the messaging app Telegram and thus inciting offenses, even though he didn’t write anything himself!
Commemorate June 4? Even the Church no longer does: “Because frontline staff and some members of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong are concerned about whether holding this event is a violation of the National Security Act, we will not hold a memorial mass on June 4.”
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Against the Crackdown …
Sinologist Marie Holzman of China Solidarity invited organizations defending democratic freedoms to gather in Paris on Friday, June 3, to protest “the crushing of the democracy movement in Hong Kong, which eerily resonates with the 1989 Tian Anmen Square massacre, as well as the many victims of repression under the Chinese Communist Party led by Xi Jinping.” A hundred people responded to the call of Amnesty, the FIDH, Reporters Without Borders, the Paris Bar Association, Solidaires, among others. The China Commission of Inquiry was present.