Paying the Price: Worker Unrest in Northeast China

Abstract From March through May 2002, well-organized workers’ protests in three cities in northeastern China brought unprecedented numbers of disaffected, laid-off, and unemployed workers into the streets. In an area of high unemployment, extensive poverty, conspicuous wealth, and what is widely viewed as endemic corruption, workers protested non-payment of back wages and pensions, loss of benefits, insufficient severance pay, maneuvers intended to bypass elected workers congresses, and unfulfilled government promises to help the unemployed find jobs. Like previous demonstrations in other areas of the northeastern “rust-belt,” the protests emerged from several years of privatization, down-sizing, and bankruptcies of state-owned enterprises in which workers had been promised lifetime employment and broad benefits. The protests in 2002, however, involved tens of thousands of workers from dozens of factories and mines, and lasted longer than any protests since the violent suppression of the 1989 Democracy Movement. This included protests in the metal sector, the Liaoyang workers, as well as other energy intensive sectors.
Author Human Rights Watch, August 2002
8 Energy Intensive Industries, 8.5.2 Metalwork