Chinese dictatorship again shows zero tolerance towards workers’ rights to organize
Philipp Chmel, International Socialist Alternative
For attempting to organize food delivery workers in China, Chen Guojiang risks five years in prison. He has been charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, the so-called Communist Party (CCP) regime’s catch-all charge against any group that tries to publicize its grievances. Chen was arrested on 25 February and charged one month later after a campaign of pressure by his family and supporters asking for information about his detention.
Chen and his fellow drivers working in the fast growing ‘gig’ economy have been fighting for wage increases and better working conditions. He posted videos “which called out [online food delivery] platforms for oppressing workers and violating laws and regulations by fining drivers for late deliveries. He has also pointed the finger at government departments for passing the buck on regulating the gig economy”, as reported by the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin.
Via sixteen WeChat groups, Chen has been in contact with 14,000 delivery workers whom he “called […] to stop work when faced with unfair working conditions” (China Labour Bulletin).
Workers in China are ruthlessly exploited by Chinese and foreign capitalists benefiting from the largest non-union workforce in the world. While the profits of food delivery platforms such as Meituan or Ele.me have soared during the pandemic, wages have been cut in many places. To maintain their income, drivers try to fulfil more orders during the same time; the wage cuts therefore directly endanger the drivers’ lives. In 2018 alone, food delivery drivers were involved in 121 traffic accidents through which 19 drivers lost their lives.
Despite the dangers involved with organizing labour resistance under the ruthless CCP regime, workers fight back. From 2018 to 2019, strikes increased from 10 to 45 in the delivery sector, which is a 250 percent increase! After strike action went down last year largely due to the pandemic and “a massive influx of new drivers into the industry, there are now signs that frustrated workers have returned to collective action” says China Labour Bulletin.
Upturn in strikes
In March this year, there have already been strikes of delivery workers in Shenzhen, Zhejiang and Linyi. On March 8, there was another protest coordinated through online chat groups against the arrest of Chen Guojiang. His arrest shows that workers face vicious repression if they cross the dictatorship’s red line, for example by trying to set up an independent trade union. The CCP is extremely anxious about the current economic situation, despite its claims of strong growth, with rising unemployment and falling real wages creating conditions for an eruption of workers’ struggles.
Despite the repression, workers and youth continue to fight and organize and they stand in solidarity with each other. After his family posted a call for donations to pay a lawyer on WeChat, they received 120,000 yuan (US$18,300) within ten hours and Chen’s colleagues are taking actions to demand his release.
ISA, which organizes in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, expresses it solidarity with the struggle of delivery workers for higher wages, medical and unemployment insurance, regulated working hours and crucially the right to build an independent trade union.
- Drop the charges against Chen Guojiang!
- End outsourcing and ‘gig’ employment scams – for direct employment on permanent contacts with medical and social insurance!
- For democratically controlled independent trade unions!
- For freedom of speech and freedom of assembly!
- Down with billionaire authoritarian rule!