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Chinese Workers at Military Uniform Factory Protest over Job Fears

AFP, 17 July 2000

BEIJING, Jul 17, 2000—(Agence France Presse) More than 1,000 workers and retirees have spent the past seven days surrounding a uniform factory of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) in silent protest over fears the unit will be shut down, witnesses said Monday.

The workers are still outside, we can't even go out, said a staff member contacted by telephone.

The protest erupted last Tuesday and has continued round the clock ever since despite company officials agreeing to meet with the demonstrators, said the staff and the Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

Located in the southwestern city of Chengdu, the 3508 Military Industry Factory, under the PLA's general logistics department, has been facing financial difficulties, the information center said.

The central government's decision to trim the size of the military has affected the factory's earnings, with orders for uniforms dropping.

Factory officials recently began dabbling in real estate in hopes of boosting earnings, but because of lack of experience they lost much of the company's money, the center said.

Company managers also began selling off pieces of property owned by the factory.

They sold a lot of land. They're supposed to use the money to buy raw materials for production, but we don't see that happening, said the staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity. The leaders are corrupt.

Rumours that no salary would be issued next month and plans by a top manager to retire spurred workers to stage the protest, demanding company officials give them a straight answer on what will happen to the firm and whether they would get any compensation if the plant shut down.

Retirees, dependent on the company-paid pensions, made up most of the protestors, the center said.

The company, which employs about 5,000 workers, is like many state-owned firms in China faced with the challenge of trying to survive as the government no longer gives them unconditional financial support in an effort to move towards a more efficient, market-oriented economy.

Labor problems caused by a changing economy have sparked a massive rise in protests around China.

Last year, 100,000 demonstrations were reported to the central government—about 270 a day—up nearly 70 percent from the previous year, according to internal reports leaked to the information center.

No violence was reported in the Chengdu protest.

Company officials could not be reached for comment.