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Document 3 of 15.

Copyright 1999 Associated Press  
AP Worldstream

April 02, 1999; Friday 02:58 Eastern Time

SECTION: International news

LENGTH: 409 words

HEADLINE: Chinese workers announce underground labor union


    Workers in a north China port city announced the formation Friday of an underground labor union dedicated to helping Chinese workers regain their place as the ''masters of the nation.''

Labor activists formed the Chinese Association to Protect Workers' Rights because ''the government-run so-called union'' does not serve the workers' interests, the union said in a statement dated Friday and released by the Free China Movement, a Washington-based dissident lobbying group.

China's communist leaders allow only government-backed unions and pools them into one tightly controlled trade union congress. At a time of soaring unemployment, authorities are fearful that democracy campaigners might link up with frustrated workers and threaten Communist Party rule.

Fearful of government retaliation, the activists formed the new group in the city of Tianjin during a secret meeting in a factory which the Free China Movement did not identify. No names of organizers were released.

In Tianjin, near Beijing, nearly one-third of the city's 2 million workers have been laid off, according to the new union's statement.

The union vowed to restore the working class to its leading role in society a status enshrined in China's constitution ''and allow workers to really be the masters of the nation.''

The group said it had a right to form under the constitution and two key U.N. human rights documents that China has signed but not yet ratified. In practice, however, the government has arrested people trying to set up labor unions and political parties.

China has a huge oversupply of labor as debt-ridden factories lay off millions of unneeded workers as part of reforms. Rights abuses have included unpaid mandatory overtime, low wages and arbitrary fines, physical abuse and humiliation at the hands of factory bosses, according to reports in the Chinese press and by foreign scholars.

There have been numerous demonstrations around China by workers angry because their factories have not paid them wages, pensions or the meager unemployment stipends they are entitled to.

In the early decades of Chinese communism, workers held a privileged place. Jobs in state factories were prized because they ensured cradle-to-grave benefits and high social status.

But the benefits and status have eroded as China has switched from a planned economy to a market-oriented one, forcing state factories to streamline in order to compete.


LOAD-DATE: April 02, 1999

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