Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Hundreds of workers at a factory in Wuhan, Hubei, clashed for hours with police in anti-riot gear. They were trying to prevent their company boss from fleeing aided by police before back wages were paid. In the meantime, the authorities ban media from reporting public unrest or social problems that might tarnish China’s image.
Wuhan 3541 Garment General Factory made uniforms for the People’s Liberation Army, but went bust in 2007, laying off more than 4,000 workers. Since then, they have been waiting for back wages.
Quoting a local source, Radio Free Asia reported that protesters each want 30,000 to 40,000 yuan of housing subsidy and the moving allowance, which the factory had promised to pay, as well as an accounting on what will happen to the factory.
On Monday, more than 1,500 workers blocked streets around the factory, calling for the company boss to pay them after so many years. They also tried to prevent him from leaving the plant under police escort.
“At around 6.30pm on Monday, some riot policemen came and attempted to take Sun [the head of the office] away," Zhang Jian, a local resident, said. This led to clashes that lasted hours and at least five people injured.
According to 2008 data, at least 84,000 mass incidents caused by economic reasons break out on average every year in China. Chinese workers are poorly protected and street protests are commonplace for workers waiting for back pay.
However, for some observers the authorities are usually more concerned about the bad publicity social unrest might cause than finding solutions to its underlying problems.
Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) reports that China’s Propaganda Department, which is under the direct orders of the country’s Communist Party, issued directives whereby many social and economic issues are off-limits, issues like rising prices, corruption, housing demolition and compulsory relocation, residence permits, the absence of social security, inadequate transport during the Chinese New Year and popular dissatisfaction that finds expression in anti-government demonstrations.
Regarded as state secrets, these directives have been delivered verbally to journalists at meetings where note taking was banned.
The goal of such censorship is to “reassure” the people that economic growth and prosperity continue.
A ban natural disasters or workplace accidents has already been in place for years, except when official state media report them first.
The Propaganda Department is also studying ways to limit local news reports and prevent journalists from answering questions by foreigners.
RSF notes that such censorship is routine, especially during international events like the Shanghai Expo of 2010 or the Beijing Olympics of 2008, when media were not allowed to report any news that was not first released by official agencies.
According to some analysts, all this illustrates the degree to which the authorities fear social unrest and people’s willingness to take to the streets against police to defend their economic rights.