Chinese Workers Fearing Job Losses Block Highway

Saul Thomas stthomas at
Thu Dec 2 07:01:30 MST 1999

Hundreds Of Chinese Workers Fearing
                  Job Losses Block Highway

                  BEIJING, Dec 2, 1999 -- (Reuters) Some 1,000 silk
                  factory workers who feared losing their jobs staged a
                  two-day protest, blocking a national highway in
                  southwestern China, a Hong Kong-based rights
                  group said Thursday.

                  The protest began on Tuesday and continued into Wednesday
in Sichuan
                  province, the Kong-based Information Center of Human
Rights and
                  Democratic Movement in China said.

                  Workers at the Hong Jiang Silk Factory, who had not been
paid for a year,
                  were alarmed by rumors that the factory would go bankrupt
and marched to
                  National Highway 318 on Tuesday, it said.

                  On Wednesday they protested in front of the county
government offices,
                  carrying banners reading "Down with corruption. Down with
graft. We need
                  to eat. Our kids need to attend school."

                  The workers then marched again on the highway.

                  Authorities called in 120 riot police and 100 regular
officers, who arrested
                  three people, the information center said, adding at
least five protestors were

                  Tang Bo, an official at the county government, confirmed
the protest

                  "There were only 500 to 600 people. The workers blocked
                  Highway 318 for more than six hours. It was a major
inconvenience. Some
                  400 to 500 cars could not get through," Tang told AFP

                  But he denied there was any injury or arrests. He also
denied workers had
                  not been paid for a year. Factory officials could not be
reached for comment.

                  The workers have vowed to continue protests, the
information center said.

                  It said more protests would follow after China enters the
World Trade
                  Organization (WTO), as state companies that cannot
compete would have to

                  "Many people are optimistic about China's entry to WTO,
but we believe
                  WTO will cause more state workers to be unemployed. At
the same time,
                  they will not get the social welfare they previously
enjoyed," the information
                  center said.

                  In the past few decades, Chinese workers have seen
cutbacks in public
                  welfare, pension, housing and medical allowances, but
after China's entry into
                  the WTO, there will be even less of these benefits, the
center said.

                  China is expected to join the global trade body next
year. It negotiated trade
                  agreements with the United States and Canada last month
and is seeking
                  similar agreements with other countries in order to join
the WTO.

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