【Unravel the truth – response to the allegations of the XinHua News Agency report on 22 December on labour activists】
Compiled by Red Balloon Solidarity
The XinHua Agency has published an article titled “Revealing the truth behind ‘the star of labor movement’: investigation against the criminal suspects Zeng Feiyang, head of ‘Panyu Dagongzu Migrant workers’ Center’, and others”. The state has now made serious and untrue accusation against labour activists and their organisations. It attempts to scandalize the activists who were put into custody, but the details are largely wrong. Making use of the mouthpiece of the state, the government revealed its intention to suppress labour grassroot organizations. The article was published before trial, jeopardizing the administration of justice. In the article, it has given a severe blow to the leader of one of the labour organisations – “Panyu Dagongzu Migrant Workers Center” person in charge Zeng Fei Yang , accusing that he has “masterminded the labour struggles”. In reality, the strikes of workers have been results of employers’ violation of their legal rights. The Chinese government has politically suppressed and scandalized activists in the past year, severely undermining the survival of civil society in China.
Let us debunk those allegations one by one.
The article claims that Zeng Feiyang is the mastermind behind the strike in Lidei Shoe Factory in Panyu, Guangzhou, inciting workers to strike and disrupt production processes in the factory and social order.
Panyu Lidei Shoe Factory has long exploited workers. Workers went on strike not only because of the employers’ exploitation, but also the lack of supervision by the government. Panyu Lidei Shoe Factory delayed paying workers overtime payment, subsidy for high temperatures and paid annual leaves, and did not purchase social security and housing allowance for the workers. Back in early 2014, workers heard that the factory was going to be relocated. In August, workers were introduced to the Panyu Dagongzu Migrant Workers’ Center, and were advised on the legal regulations and laws on relocation of factory. After that, Lidei workers went on strike for 3 times for their rights, on 6-7 December 2014, 15-17 December 2014 and 20-25 April 2015 respectively. Workers went on strike in April because they were not told of compensation policy upon relocation. On 19 April, 126 workers from Panyu Shoe Factory gathered at a hotel at Guangzhou, during which workers discussed about how the employer revoked its promise and angered the workers. Suddenly, around 100 police officers rushed into the site and conflicted with the workers. Many were injured and one of them fainted. Furious workers started to strike the next day. After one week while the workers guarded the factory and pressurized the boss to conduct collectively bargaining with the workers representatives, they succeeded in obtaining severance payment, social security payment and housing allowance.
During the process, police officers abused their power and it is their violence that drove the workers to strike. The staff of Panyu Dagongzu Migrant Workers’ Center on the other hand advised workers to fight for their rights (wei quan) legally and not to use illegal means like occupying the roads. They talked highly of collectively bargaining to demand what they wanted. So it is an important question – who disrupted social order?
Another point of consideration is the level of authenticity of the words of two witnesses, “representatives Gao and Li” cited in the passage. However, without the due process at court and without testimony of witnesses, it is impossible for outsiders to judge whether they are telling the truth. An article published recently suggested that these representatives Gao and Li were those representatives who betrayed the workers and were in fact voted down by the workers after the third strike.
On 6 December 2015, at the first strike of the Li dei workers, 13 representatives including Li and Gao were voted as representatives and those 13 representatives demonstrated their wisdom in the bargaining. However, after the workers had gone back to their work duties on 18 December, worker representatives were sent to Nanchuen police station to make a statement. After that, 5 of the representatives including Li and Gao, (leaving the 8 others) privately conducted bargaining with the employers but did not reveal the content of their conversations. Workers were highly disappointed. The Xinhua report only cited the words of Li and Gao to accuse the Workers’ center but clearly their trustworthiness was of doubt.
It is said that someone working with Zeng Feiyang once reported to the police that Zeng has repeatedly kept compensation fees of the workers and taken it to himself.
Xinhua Agency apparently knows nothing about the events and never fact-checks with the workers. The accusations were totally made up. After the strike, the factory issued compensations to workers and were sent directly to the workers’ bank accounts. How could Zeng keep the sum to himself? How could the factory send the compensation fees to Zeng who merely helped the workers to weiquan, and let him send the compensation fees to the workers?
That passage also reported that “every time after the strike, Zeng Feiyang has organised huge celebrations and paid to make a thank-you plague of “Star of Labour Movement” given to the workers. The workers then presented the plague to Zeng and let them post it online”. It was then said in such a way: “workers voluntarily made for him”. In fact, the workers made use of Solidarity Fund to organize the celebration and invited Zeng Feiyang and his colleagues to join. The plague was made by the worker representatives and funded also by the workers’ Solidarity Fund.
It is said that “Zeng Feiyang expanded his influence in Guangzhou and subsequently in Dongguan, Foshan, Zhongshang and established branch offices such as Foshan Nanfeiyang Social Work Service Center.
The person in charge of Foshan Nanfeiyang Social Work Service Center He Xiaobo was charged for “financial embezzlement” in the arrest. In fact He was once a member of Panyu Dagongzu Migrant Workers’ Center, but after he left, Nanfeiyan which he set up did not cooperate with Panyu Migrant Workers’ Center. It does not have any financial relations with Dagongzu either. Nanfeiyang has set up to provide services for injured workers and He himself was an injured worker and later became an NGO worker fighting for the workers’ rights. The passage mistakenly identified Foshan Nanfeiyang Social Work Service Center as a branch of Dagongzu and falsely gathered information about the matter. It is unfair to He Xiaobo.
Another arrested person Menghan was said “to have relationship with a married woman and planned to elope”, and has hidden himself because he was pursued by the husband. In 2014, he was arrested by disruption of social order and was sentenced to 9 months of imprisonment.
The Chinese government has tried to “reveal” personal life to defame the Mainland activists from time to time. The passage’s accusation was clearly unsupported and these personal matters are unrelated to their charge. On 19 August 2013, Menghan and 11 security guards, who worked at First Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine, organized 60 other workers who were like him – workers subcontracted by labour service companies to guard hospitals. They fought for their legal rights to have equal salary and treatment same as formal workers. They were charged for “assembling crowds to disrupt social order”, and later convicted in April 2014.
Menghan as the chair worker representative fought for their rights, and was detained by officials for 8 months. This process was put to various hurdles and is a clear example of injustice. However, after the suppression, it further strengthened his willpower to weiquan and became a member of the NGO.