The condition of two imprisoned workers’ leaders in China is critical. The Commitee for a Workers’ international supports an international campaign for their’ release.
Fears are growing for the health of Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang, two workers imprisoned for their part in workers’ protests in Liaoyang, north-eastern China in 2002. Xiao, serving a four year sentence since June 2003 is in a critical condition. He has gone blind and may be suffering from liver or kidney disease. Earlier this year he was admitted to hospital and diagnosed to be suffering from "arteriosclerosis of the aorta, liver and gallbladder stones and chronic superficial gastritis", according to China Labour Bulletin (28 June 2004). Despite the granting of this examination, the prison authorities refuse to give him medicine - in violation of their legal responsibilities - and an examination of his kidney and lungs has also been refused. Yao Fuxin, serving seven years for his role in the same protests, has a history of heart disease and there are concerns he may suffer a heart attack. He is also deaf in one ear due to an injury suffered in detention.
Both men’s families have appealed for a medical parole, but this has been repeatedly rejected. The wives of both men took their case to the central government in Beijing earlier this year but were forcibly turned back. In June, workers at the Liaoyang Ferro-alloy Factory Corporation where both men worked, sent an open letter to China’s president and Communist Party General Secretary, Hu Jintao, in which they say the men’s conviction was based on "extorted confessions, false reports, deceitful testimonies and faked evidence". Frame-up
"Yao and Xiao are victims of a frame-up by the local authorities in Lioayang - officials who hypocritically claim to represent the working class", says Tony Saunois, Secretary of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI).
"The same authorities were involved in corruption and the looting of former state-owned assets which led to protests by up to 80,000 workers in February and March 2002. Workers and trade unionists internationally must take up the case and demand their immediate release," he says.
The cwi is especially appealing to trade unions at corporations with affiliates based in China to take the matter up with their own management. Trade missions and official Chinese delegations to other countries should also be targetted for protests to generate maximum publicity about the case.
"The cwi has no confidence in politicians from the capitalist democracies who hypocritically raise the issue of human rights in China, while their big business backers make superprofits from the lack of trade union rights and elementary health and safety standards in China’s factories. We urge workers’ organisations internationally to bring their own pressure to bear on the regime in China, in support of workers’ rights - to organise, to strike and to form a political party for the working class," says Tony Saunois.
The essential facts about the ’Liaoyang Two’ are as follows:
- On 15 January 2003 Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang went on trial at the Liaoyang Intermediate People’s Court accused of "subversion" and "organising illegal demonstrations" of workers at the Liaoyang Ferro-alloy plant in early 2002. The main charges against them were alleged membership of an illegal organisation - the China Democracy Party, alleged contacts with foreign journalists and "hostile elements" and instigating unlawful assemblies and demonstrations.
- The trial lasted four hours but the verdict was not delivered until four months later - itself a violation of Chinese law. In June 2003, the appeal of the two men against their sentences was rejected after a 30 minute secret hearing. Neither of the men’s lawyers nor any family members were allowed to be present.
- In February and March 2002, the industrial city of Liaoyang in Liaoning province was shaken by massive workers’ protests against the stage-managed "bankruptcy" of the Ferro-alloy Factory. 1,600 workers were laid-off without recieving the promised retrenchment payments of 5,000 yuan ($800). Liaoning province (population 42m) has the highest proportion of laid-off former state-sector workers of any province in China. In total, workers across China are owed $40 billion-worth of back pay and redundancy payments. To this day, the Ferro-alloy workers have not been paid despite promises made by officials at the time of the protests.
- The Ferro-alloy workers also demanded an investigation into malpractice by the factory management which led it to file for bankruptcy under suspicious circumstances. Several Ferro-alloy officials had already been arrested and sentenced on corruption charges, as had the former head of the Liaoning Provincial Peoples’ Court. The governor of the province was expelled from the ruling Communist Party for corruption. All this is indicative of the widespread corruption in China’s provinces, as state-owned assets and companies are privatised or become the object of elaborate swindles while workers are cheated out of jobs and welfare entitlements.
- In the course of the protests, which spread to 20 other factories, and culminated in mass demonstrations numbering 80,000 - the biggest workers’ demonstrations since the student-inspired protests of May-June 1989 - the idea of an independent trade union as opposed to the management-run ACFTU gained support. (For more information see article: ’Workers’ Protests Shake China’). Whether Yao and Xiao were involved in such discussions or not, it is this idea which so terrifies the authorities (and foreign corporations which do business in China) and it also explains why the two men have been persecuted so ruthlessly.
The right to strike was enshrined in China’s constitution during the Maoist era (though in reality it was not tolerated) but was struck from the constitution in 1982 on the grounds that the political system had "eradicated problems between the proletariat and enterprise owners". The All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) is a yellow union serving the interests of bosses rather than workers. China’s Trade Union Law, which governs the role of the ACFTU was amended in 2001 to state that the ACFTU: "Shall take the economic construction as the centre, adhere to the socialist road, uphold the people’s democratic dictatorship, abide by the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, adhere to Marxist-Leninist Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory, persevere in reform and opening".
Here, what’s relevant is not the repetition of old and increasingly meaningless mantras about socialism and ’Mao Zedong Thought’, but the commitment to "reform and opening" and "economic construction as the centre" i.e. support for pro-capitalist, anti-working class reforms: privatisation, lay-offs, deregulation and loss of social benefits.
Send messages demanding the release of
Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang
Minister of Justice, Zhang Fusen
10 Chaoyangmen Nandajie
Peoples’ Republic of China
Suggested wording of message of protest:
We call upon the Chinese authorities to release the "Liaoyang Two" - Yao Fuxin and Xiao Yunliang - from prison.
They are serving long prison sentences based on false charges of "subversion", contact with foreign journalists and "organising illegal demonstrations".
Their only crime was to take part in workers’ protests in 2002 against job losses and the refusal of management to pay promised compensation at the Liaoyang Ferro-alloy Factory in Liaoning province.
Both men are seriously ill. Xiao Yunliang has gone blind in prison and suffers from liver/kidney disease, yet has been denied medicines by the prison authorities.
Both men’s appeals for parole on medical grounds have been repeatedly turned down.
We wish to add our names to a growing chorus of demands for their release.