02/25/2009, 00.00
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Workers clash with police over pensions and health insurance

In Chongqing some 800 workers take over an abandoned plant, slated for redevelopment. In Zigong (Sichuan) police and about a thousand laid-off textile workers clash.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Five workers from a silk factory in Tongliang (Chongqing) were detained for organising a sit-in in the factory. Tang Aimin, Hu Weimin, Li Taiyuan, Ou Hongyong and Wang Yu acted as representatives of about 800 laid-off workers demanding pensions and medical insurance after the plant’s closure.

In order to press their case the workers took over the plant. On 15 February police summoned the five representatives to “discuss the problem of the plant” but were instead detained on suspicion of “gathering crowds to disturb social order” and threatening public security, charges which could land them in jail for years. Police also warned the other protesters that if they “create problems,” they too would be arrested.

On 16 February, about 2,000 government workers surrounded the silk factory and ordered those workers at the factory to leave. When the protesters refused to budge, the authorities ordered a group to enter the factory, which had to withdraw after they were threatened with explosive oxygen containers

The silk factory went bust in 1996 and was sold in 1998. After losing their jobs workers looked into workers benefits in case of factory bankruptcy and found that they were entitled to pensions, medical insurance, or at least compensation appropriate to the number of years they worked in the factory. With that they petitioned the local government to do something, but got nowhere.

In 2008 all the plant’s machinery was sold and the building was slated for demolition in favour of a highly lucrative real estate deal.

At that point ex-plant workers took over the premises to protest their condition, preventing the demolition from going ahead.

After some months Tongliang city government called on the workers to pick some representatives for negotiations. Talks got no where and the workers representatives were arrested.

Elsewhere, police clashed between 20 and 23 February with about 1,000 workers from a textile factory in Zigong City, Sichuan Province, who have been demonstrating outside of the Zigong City government building. Six protestors were injured.

A rights group, Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD), reported that protests are still underway, noting that article 35 of the Chinese Constitution guarantees freedom of assembly.

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