By Zhao Sile(赵思乐)
On December 3rd, at least 19 labour rights workers in Guangdong were taken away or questioned, or have their homes raided by the police. Up till the publication deadline, ten people were still under the control of the police. Among them, 4 people are person-in-charge of labour rights organizations, including Zeng FeiYang(曾飞洋) of Guangzhou’s Panyu Service Department for Peasant Workers(番禺打工族服务部); He Xiaobo(何晓波), from Foshan Nanfeiyian Social Service Centre(南飞雁社会工作服务中心); Chen Huihai(陈辉海), from Guangzhou’s Haige Labour Service Center(海哥劳工服务部)(previously Guangdong Weiquan Lawyer Firm Workers Training Unit, 广东劳维律师事务所工人培训部); and Peng Jiayong(彭家勇) from Panyu’s Laborer Mutual Aid Group(劳动者互助小组). The other 6 people, including Zhu Xiaomei(朱小梅), Tang Jian(汤建), Xin Minyan(辛敏妍), Chen Yingying(陈莹莹), Deng Xiaoming(邓小明), and Meng Han(孟晗), are related to the above-mentioned organizations because of their works. Among them, Chen Huihai is under house arrest and can be contacted, but is under the control of the police at an unknown place. The other people cannot be reached.
When the police raided the house of Zeng FeiYang’s ex-colleague, they showed a document that says “The authority is investigating Zeng and company’s actions of gathering the crowds to disturb social and public order." And when they raided He Xiaobo’s home, they told his wife that He Xiaobo is suspected of duty encroachment. Labour rights activists in Guangdong analysed the situation, and said it is very likely that this wave of suppression would be aiming for Zeng and He at the end.
In the evening of Dec 3rd, Zeng、He and Zhu Xiaomei’s families received a formal arrest warrant.
Ye(pseudonym), a seasoned labour rights worker in Guangdong, pointed out that the people affected by this wave of suppression have all worked in Panyu Service Department for Peasant Workers. According to his knowledge, the investigation on Zeng has been going for quite some time. About one week ago, a strike by sanitation workers happened at Guangzhou’s Liwan District Fengyuan Street. Wang Fuju(王福菊), the editor of the independent news platform for workers, The Voice of Hammer(锤子之声), was observing the strike and was taken away by the police. Zeng was also there when the strike happened. After Wang was released, her colleagues learned that the questions she was asked were all related to Zeng. Zeng once told Ye that he expected himself to be arrested in the near future.
Ye said, “It is very apparent that these actions are carefully planned. Our friends were questioned, and according to the contents of the questions, the authority is trying to ‘prove’ that the individual independent labour rights organizations are all under a group leaded by Zeng, and use that as an excuse to increase the intensity of surveillance and control."
Looking at these suppressions against labour rights organizations in Guangdong and Foshan, Ye thought that the authority had started planning for it a long time ago. Sunflower Female Workers Center(向阳花女工中心) and Nanfeiyian had been asked to cancel their organization registration since the middle of the year. “These showed that the authority is trying to increase its control over the society during an economic downturn. It looks like an attack on the labour organizations on the surface, but actually they are trying to suppress the labour movement. Zeng, He, Chen and Peng’s organizations are all actively pushing for collective bargaining. When the authority attacks these organizations, they are in fact saying ‘no’ to the worker’s legal rights to collective bargaining at the same time."
He added: “China’s economic downturn has expressed itself in the form of decreasing exports, and hardships experienced by the steel and coal industry. This is a manifestation of China’s structural contradiction of excessive productive capacity, which was caused by the country’s long-standing export-oriented economic policy. Many people analysed that the real economic winter would arrive next year, and when it comes I believe the authority would increase the intensity of social control even further, and keep attacking the civil society."
It is no news that labour rights NGOs in Guangdong(it seems that outside of Guangdong, there are not too many labour organizations that are relatively proactive) are under the tight scrutiny of and frequently attacked by the police. The economic downturn also means that the workers may fight for their rights more frequently. However, there were no large-scale strikes recently. Also, the labour organizations are not active, and they are far from having the capacity and tendency to organize strikes that encompass different geographic regions. Given that the situation is relatively calm, it is surprising to many people that the police would take such a large-scale offensive at this moment.
From another perspective, however, Guangdong is actually quite “lively" at the moment. On Nov 19th, the trial of Xie Wenfei(谢文飞) and Wang Mo(王默), who were charged with “inciting subversion of state power" after they showed supports to Hong Kong’s Occupy Central Movement, finally commenced in the Guangzhou Intermediate Court, more than one year after their arrests. On Nov 27, after a long wait since their first trial, Guo Feixiong(郭飞雄)and Sun Desheng(孙德胜), who were being charged with “gathering the crowds to disturb social and public order", were finally sentenced. They were arrested in August 2013 for showing support to Southern Weekly (a.k.a Southern Weekend) publicly at the start of the year, and had been locked up by the authority for more than two years. To the puzzlement of everyone, the judge decided to personally add “affray" to the list of crimes that Guo was being charged, and sentenced him to six years in prison. Sun was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. Liu Yuandong(刘远东), who participated in the Southern Street Movement and who was arrested even earlier in 2013, were sentenced to three years in prison on the same day.
Why, then, does the authority think now is the time to deal with the thorns in its side that are the labour organizations, and the democracy advocates the authority has been putting aside? Why does it decide to deal with the two forces at the same time at this particular moment, after such a long delay?
Since the cases related to Occupy Central started last year, the authority’s security system had changed its mode of operation. Before, it was in “stabilization mode", in which the local authorities decide what they should be doing. After that, the system started changing into “national security mode", in which the national government is centrally organizing and coordinating the whole country’s security measures. It is probably correct to say that this year’s suppressions on the civil society began with the attack on the “Feminist 5″ who were involved in an action on March 7th. In April, after the Feminist 5 were released, Yi Ren Ping(益仁平), the anti-discrimination organization that some of them were involved in, was picked out and declared illegal by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During May and June, quite a few anti-discrimination organizations that are related to Yi Ren Ping were investigated, with some of the persons-in-charge taken away, and many NGOs were harassed and asked to cancel their registrations. The trial of Jia Lingmin(贾灵敏)’s case started in May, while that of Tang Jingling(唐荆陵)’s commenced in June. At the same time, Wu Gan, also known as “Super Vulgar Butcher" on the Internet, and the petitioners from Shandong were caught. From these incidents, we started to catch a glimpse of the big cases under “national security mode". Then the famous “July 9th Crackdown" on lawyers erupted, which lasted until August.
From the mid-August to November, it seemed that the situation had calmed down a little bit for the civil society which had been “under fire", but it is also obvious that the authority was still very “busy". In August, the government was busily preparing for the military parade, with the whole Beijing and, in fact, the whole country virtually under martial law. Following the parade in September, the authority visited USA and participated in the United Nation Assembly. A few days after visiting America, the government started the visits to five European countries and Britain, which ended on October 23rd. Perhaps the best description for the first half of November is “the calm before the storm"(Actually that was not really the case, as the Public Security Bureau declared on November 14th that after a 56-day-long offensive, the Special Police Unit of Xinjiang had started an all-out assault on the terrorists and killed a lot of them.) — maybe it only took them a few internal notices to re-ignite the crackdown on the civil society, starting from the South.
It is like a person was cleaning up the house, but it was time to visit a few friends, so he dropped the task at hand, closed the door(the human rights lawyers were not allowed to leave the country) and went outside. After he went home, he on one hand pressed the “clean" button on the cleaning robot, and on the other hand threw the properly-handled and well-contained garbage away.
It seems that the authority is not administering the country; it is administering its home. Or maybe it does not know the differences between the two. A totalitarian regime has its own agenda(OK, not “agenda", since there is actually nothing to discuss. It should be called “arrangement".); if a totalitarian regime sees anything or anybody or any events in its home that it does not like, it treats them as garbage that is to be disposed of. What is more terrifying is that a totalitarian regime cannot stop from doing it: it maintains its sense of security and existence through removing things it does not like.
Civil rights organizations were removed, independent research institutes were removed, anti-discrimination organizations were removed, human rights lawyers were removed, grassroot activists were removed, and now it is the labour organizations’ turn…… six or twelve months later, what we will see is only an unending piece of whiteness.