CHINA Dossier – Workers’ Revolt at Foxconn: Prelude to Mass Protests Against “Zero COVID” Lockdown

In This Special China Dossier:

• “The Internationale” Unites the Human Race – by Daniel Gluckstein

Revolt at Foxconn, “We Want Our Paycheck!” – by Alain Denizo

• Mass Protests Erupt Against the “Zero COVID” Lockdown – by Olivier Doriane

• From Urumqi to Shanghai, Mass Demonstrations Across China – by Olivier Doriane

• China After the Demonstrations, the Authorities Are Worried

• Document by Chinese Students Abroad

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“The Internationale” Unites the Human Race

By Daniel Gluckstein

[Editorial of La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers’ Tribune, November 30, 2022]

In the huge Foxconn factory, 200,000 Chinese workers are being exploited by a Taiwanese owner who works for the U.S. multinational Apple. They are also being forced into lockdown by the bureaucratic government. When management “forgot” to pay a bonus that was due, the situation exploded. Thousands of workers quit, held protests, stopped work. This spread to other parts of the country, to other factories. And suddenly, among the protestors, The Internationale could be heard being sung.

The leaders of the capitalist countries and their media voiced concern. On [public radio channel] France Inter, one “specialist” was asked: “We have heard people singing The Internationale, does it have a special meaning in China?” The answer: “It was and is the revolutionary song that was taken up by the Communist Party before China had its own national anthem. And in fact, it was mainly the workers in Wuhan who sang it. Besides, at the beginning, it was probably a way of allaying possible repression by showing that they were not against the system but against the anti-Covid policy. Now, people are no longer singing The Internationale, they’re protesting against a political system itself.

No longer singing The Internationale?” According to an AFP report, a few days later in Beijing, students held a protest singing The Internationale and chanting “Freedom will triumph”. On November 28, a rally in solidarity with the Chinese workers was held in Taiwan, where The Internationale was again sung in Chinese.

Western commentators can try to gloss over the class content of the demonstrations. But The Internationale is the song through which workers all over the world stand up against capitalist exploitation. Isn’t this what the confrontation between those workers and the multinational Apple is all about?

The Western capitalist rulers and their media are happy for Chinese workers to challenge the political power of the Communist Party. But there what is not acceptable is questioning the very principle of capitalist exploitation to which the Chinese leaders have largely opened up the country, delivering millions of workers to be directly exploited by the multinationals! The capitalist rulers would like the situation to go all the way in opening up to the market, to the full restoration of capitalism. But the workers are not demanding that: they are demanding an end to this unjust exploitation.

The current mobilizations in China, about which no-one can say how far they will go, have the merit of clarifying the alliances in play.

On the one hand, there is a de facto alliance between the most powerful capitalism in the world – of which Apple is the emblematic representative – the leaders of the Taiwanese multinationals and the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party. The basis of this alliance is their common desire to impose the most severe exploitation on the workers and to deprive them of all freedom.

On the other hand, there is the alliance of the workers of the Foxconn factory with the Wuhan workers, the Beijing students and the Taiwan protestors, who are all singing in Chinese: “Arise, ye workers, from your slumbers”. An alliance that extends to the workers of the whole world, in solidarity with their struggle. This dividing line has international value. As the workers’ hymn says: “The Internationale unites the human race”.

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Workers at Foxconn protest lockdown

China: Revolt at Foxconn, “We Want Our Paycheck!”

By Alain Denizo

The images that show young Foxconn workers at the factory in Zhengzhou, China, confronting the police in white overalls have circled the globe. Foxconn is a Taiwanese that assembles phones and computers, exploiting hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers (800,000 as of 2020) in a dozen factories.

At the end of October, in the factory in Zhengzhou, where more than 200,000 workers

assemble the iPhones, a form of lockdown was imposed because of COVID, but production must continue. Production had to be ensured!

Fearing to be infected because of their proximity to other workers on the factory floor and distrustful of the company’s handling of the epidemic, workers became concerned. Hundreds upon hundreds fled with their belongings, escaping the factory grounds and wandering along the road to go home – despite the threats that they would not receive their pay.

One worker said: “We asked to take two days off. But it was useless because Foxconn always puts production first and human life second. Human life means nothing to these people.”

For Terry Gou, Foxconn’s billionaire boss, the time had come to appeal to the Communist Party (CCP) leadership, which had always given him everything he needed. “The factory cooperates with the government to organize the management of personnel,” Foxconn wrote. The appeal was heard: Party cadres from the surrounding villages were hired on fixed-term contracts on the production lines, retired army personnel were called in as reinforcements, and thousands of young unemployed people arrived, to whom Foxconn promised wages and bonuses far above the norm.

But when it came time to pay up, the promises were gone and there was no money to be had! Demonstrations broke out in the factory with cries of “Defend our rights! We want our pay!” The riot police were called in as reinforcements, the clashes were violent.

Foxconn had to lie as it backed down: “We apologize for an input error in the computer system and we guarantee that all payments are made as agreed.” The boss offered thousands of new hires a 10,000 yuan bonus (about three months’ salary!) to leave the company! More than 20,000 workers accepted the offer.

Foxconn, as sinister an exploiter as they come, benefited from the CCP’s “open market” policy, which gives bosses free rein to violate the country’s labor laws.

The workers’ exasperation with the bureaucratic lockdown became bound up with the fight against exploitation.

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Protesters confront the police (dressed in white)

Mass Protests Erupt Against the “Zero COVID” Lockdown

• On November 24 in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang province, a fire in a building killed ten people, including children. They could not be saved because of draconian lockdown measures. Demonstrations of indignation spread across the province.

• On November 26 in Beijing, students from Tsinghua University gathered to pay tribute to the victims of the fire. “We don’t need COVID tests, we need to eat” was the message in Beijing, where people sang The Internationale in the street.

• On November 27 in Wuhan, thousands of young people and residents broke down the containment barriers. In Shanghai, demonstrators paid tribute to the victims of the fire by holding up white sheets symbolizing censorship. Protests were held in ten cities.

• On November 28, a rally in solidarity with the embattled Chinese workers was held in Taiwan, where The Internationale again was sung in Chinese.

• On the same day, the People’s Daily, the organ of the Chinese Communist Party, warned of “weariness” in the face of the “Zero COVID” policy: the bureaucracy was worried and was preparing to let go of the ballast to avoid an explosion. — O.D.

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From Urumqi to Shanghai, Mass Demonstrations Across China

By Olivier Doriane

Within a few hours on November 27 and 28, protests spread to at least ten cities in different parts of China.

The clashes at the Foxconn factory [see articles in this dossier] fueled the revolt that is brewing across the country against the bureaucratic anti-COVID containment measures imposed by the government.

In Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, ten people died in a fire that could have been avoided without the draconian lockdown in place. The population then took to the streets, united in their Uyghur and Han components, in a common anger against the oppressive regime.

Then it was Wuhan’s turn to see thousands of young people and residents breaking down the containment barriers. In Shanghai, demonstrators paid tribute to the victims of the blaze by holding up white sheets symbolizing censorship:

“No need to write anything down, everyone knows why we are here,” a demonstrator stated.

At a college in Nanjing, students sang the Chinese national anthem, a revolutionary song that begins: “Stand up! Stand up, you who do not want to be slaves!”

On the evening of November 26, the students of Tsinghua, the prestigious university in Beijing, gathered to honor the victims of the fire. Similar actions toot place during the weekend in about 50 universities.

“We don’t need COVID tests, we need to eat,” was chanted in the streets of Beijing, where people sang The Internationale.

The bureaucratic mismanagement of the health situation was criticized everywhere. Incoherent and dangerous measures locked people up in their homes. It became common place for people not to be able tp eat or take care of themselves normally.

When someone is a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official, controlling the epidemic is a criterion for promotion. So, stupidity and savagery go hand in hand. Forty students from Peking University exposed this mechanism: “Why is the prevention and control policy becoming more and more unpopular? Those who implement centrally decided measures will inevitably focus on what will satisfy their superiors and will ignore the real demands of the people. They will constantly raise the bar at all levels to ensure a perfect record on COVID.”

On top of this was the permanent censorship of the reality of the situation. “The authorities have abused their power to control public opinion by blocking and deleting comments on the policy. This makes it impossible for the public to express discontent and criticize the measures implemented. The demonstrations that are taking place everywhere today are the inevitable result of such a situation. When a critical point is reached and there is still no adequate explanation or response, then everyone must do their best to make their voices heard. That is our statement.”

This challenge to bureaucratic management raises the question of the freedom to organize. Chinese workers and young people have the capacity to direct the affairs of society. They demonstrated this at the beginning of the pandemic by organizing solidarity in the neighborhoods, by mobilizing groups of volunteers in the hospitals. Just recently in Shanghai, residents of one neighborhood took matters into their own hands: they organized themselves to distribute meals and medicine, driving the official Chinese Communist Party committee out of the neighborhood.

What will happen in the coming days? It is too early to tell. At the time of this writing, while the brutal repression of which the regime is capable has not yet struck, the police deployment seems to have momentarily blocked further demonstrations. The fact remains that a movement is underway, carried and nourished by popular mobilization. A movement that worries all the big players of this world. The corrupt in power in Beijing, first of all. They have just announced some measures to relax the confinement.

The official organ of the CCP, the People’s Daily, published on November 28 a text warning against “paralysis” and “weariness” in the face of the “Zero COVID” policy.

But the capitalists of the world are also concerned. According to an AFP dispatch: “The demonstrations of this weekend have worried investors. Asian stock markets opened sharply lower on Monday.” 

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China After the Demonstrations, the Authorities Are Worried

Yesterday, in my city, the workers went out into the street to support the students. The police were everywhere. There were brief clashes. Now we are trying to measure the consequences of the events of the last few days. We don’t know how the authorities will react”, explains one of our correspondents in the aftermath of the demonstrations that took place in many cities in China on the weekend of November 26 and 27 (see accompanying article).

While the repressive forces have managed to regain control of the streets (not without some clashes in Hangzhou and Guangzhou during the week), the concern of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership is palpable. The Communist Party’s Political and Legal Affairs Committee – which oversees the police – has called for a “crackdown” on “hostile forces” to “resolutely protect social stability” (a term that is synonymous with respect for one-party rule). Many universities were closed, and students were sent back to their villages.

However, the authorities announced a relaxation of the brutal confinement measures against which the population had been protesting.

In Beijing, health authorities called on hospitals to stop denying treatment without a negative PCR test less than 48 hours old. This restrictive measure had been the cause of many deaths. Although censorship prevents a full accounting, the information circulating on social networks has fueled anger when babies died without being admitted to hospital. Vice Premier Sun Chunlan explained that China is “facing new circumstances,” without making any reference to the official “Zero COVID” policy that is hammered home day after day in the State media.

These fluctuations in bureaucratic power politics are due to the fact that the mobilization that has marked the country has deep social causes. A group of Chinese students abroad who can express themselves more freely provide their own analysis (see below).

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Document by Chinese Students Abroad

The Urumqi tragedy and subsequent protests are not isolated incidents. Recent years have seen the expansion of precarious sectors in China to maintain corporate profitability at the expense of workers. Much of this profit, made possible by an alliance between the Chinese State and corporations, directly benefits the Chinese elites.

In this sense, we can understand the labor abuses and resistance at the Foxconn factory in Zhengzhou as an important prelude and part of this new wave of social upheaval. …

As part of China’s “Zero COVID” policy, Foxconn has implemented “closed-loop production” at its Zhengzhou factory in accordance with the directives of China’s State Council, which has prevented workers from leaving the production center. As the world’s largest production site for Apple’s iPhones and Amazon devices, this production schedule responds to Apple and Amazon’s attempt to increase profits for exploiters around the world at the expense of workers’ lives.

This shows the true nature of U.S.-China cooperation at the expense of the working class – anti-union U.S. mega-corporations contracting with Foxconn, a Taiwanese company, to take advantage of authoritarian working conditions in China for huge profits.

We oppose those in the U.S. establishment who would seek to use the struggles in China for their own political gains, such as the expansion of the U.S. military complex alongside other “anti-China” foreign policies that harm both U.S. and Chinese workers. The growth of U.S.-China tensions has played into the hands of Chinese elites by making it easier for them to use nationalism to deflect domestic criticism of their policies of repression and exploitation.

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