China: Workers strike against French cement giant, Lafarge

Strike-hit town ’blacked out’ by police and government – international protests needed!

Over 3,000 cement workers in the town of Erlangmaio, near Jiangyou City in the central Chinese province of Sichuan have been on strike for more than two weeks following the takeover of their compnay by French multinational, Lafarge.

The strike started on 28 June at the cement manufacturer, Sichuan Shuangma Investment Group – a stock market listed company. As of 12 July it was still continuing. This is already a long strike by Chinese standards, given the level of repression and attacks workers face for standing up for their rights.

In May this year, Shuangma was acquired by the world’s leading building materials producer, Lafarge, in a deal valued at over RMB 300 million. The deal was approved by the central government in Beijing as part of a wave of mergers and foreign takeovers in the cement sector.

In order to implement compulsory redundancies, the management of the Shuangma group offered each worker compensation at RMB 1,380 for each year of employment. As part of the compensation deal, workers would lose all entitlements to their pensions, social insurance and medical insurance, even if they have worked for this former state-owned company for over 20 years. It is reported that these terms were a prequisite from Lafarge’s side for the take-over.

Lafarge’s China operations are run through a joint venture with a subsidiary of the Hong Kong-based Shui On Group. The joint venture, Lafrage Shui On, already ran 20 cement plants in China employing 10,000 workers before the Shuangma takeover. It is the largest cement producer in southwest China.

The company’s actions at the Shuangma plant are in violation of current Chinese law which states that all redundancy terms must be agreed by the works’ committee (of the official ’communist’ party-controlled trade union, ACFTU).

Town ’cut off’

Management announced the terms to the workforce on 27 June and the strike started on 28 June. The whole factory’s workers were involved in the strike, numbering between three and four thousand. The police have sealed off the whole town (Shuangma is the biggest factory in that town). They have closed all the internet connections and bus and ferry terminals in the town. Therefore we do not have any more details on the strike now. News of the strike was on some blogs and internet forums but has now been deleted by the government.

What is clear, however, is that this is a near general strike. Not only workers at Shuangma, but also workers’ relatives working in the town are involved in the strike. As Shuangma is a stock market-listed company, some websites and people connected with this stock are also focusing on it.

The Shuangma strike is a typical case of the current privatisation and globalisation policies in China. The old management of state-owned companies have sold off the public’s property and interests to multinational capitalists for personal gain. Cement prices are very low at present, so it is a profitable time to sell out to foreign capital which wants to increase its stake in China. This shows how capitalism, including foreign capital, is beginning to control key strategic industries in China.

International

Facing ’double’ repression and exploiation from the old bureaucarcy and new global capital, the working class has no other way to liberate themselves except by uniting together in struggle. This unification should not be limited within one factory, one city or one country – it should be international.

In Shuangma’s case, the workers should call out to the whole city’s workers and also to Lafarge’s other workers in China and internationally. Lafarge has already aquired the Shuangma Group so it cannot hide behind the old Shuangma bosses; it is responsible for the lay-offs, and for the strike.

A victory for the Shuangma workers is in the best interests of other Lafarge workers around the world, especially at a time when the company is making such big profits. Lafarge, which has operations in Europe, Canada, China, India and South Africa, saw its profits rise 25 percent last year to 1.37 billion euros (RMB 14.3 billion )!

When Shuangma workers in Jiangyou cannot communicate with the outside world because of the police and government blackout, Chinese supporters of the CWI are appaealing to Lafarge’s trade unionists in Europe to pay attention to showing support for their fellow workers in China. It is in all workers’ interest to see that Chinese workers get fair compensation and their pension and other social entitlements. If Lafarge can get away with this in China, they will not care about workers’ interests in Europe either. After all, Lafarge can easily move to a ’developing country’ at a very low economic and moral cost. Workers’ internationalism is the only way to confront capitalist globalisation!

We therefore appeal for messages protesting against Lafarge’s refusal to meet workers’ demands and expressing support for the striking workers to be sent to:

Chairman and CEO Bruno Lafont,

Lafarge SA,

61 rue des Belles Feuilles

BP 40 – 75782 Paris Cedex 16

Fax: 33 1 44 34 12 00

Please also send copies to: cwi.china@gmail.com

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