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Slave-labour scandal in China
NEWS OF slavery, torture, human trafficking and children imprisoned in conditions "worse than dog kennels" has exploded like a bomb in China and dealt a serious blow to the credibility of the ruling 'communist' party.
Vincent Kolo, Beijing
By 22 June, 591 slave labourers, including 51 children, had been freed as a result of one of the biggest police operations ever. A thousand more children may still be enslaved.
Hundreds of millions have watched the shocking, heart-rending television footage of dazed, mistreated, half-starved slaves as they emerged from captivity. The youngest was an eight-year-old. Some were still wearing their school uniforms from the day they were kidnapped. The traffickers charged 500 yuan (roughly Û52) for each slave.
But this mobilisation of police resources - a reported 45,000 police in two provinces - only came about because of the public and media outcry that was started when parents of missing children organised themselves into a campaign group and then publicised their plight on the internet (see article on chinaworker website: Who can save our children?).
One group of parents pooled their money to buy a car to tour the brickworks of Shanxi in search of their children. By their own efforts they managed to liberate around a hundred children. But they also learned that the police and local officials were unwilling to help and in many cases were in cohoots with the slave masters.
This episode underlines that on the basis of the capitalist 'market', such practices are impossible to eradicate. In Shanxi and other poor inland provinces there are tens of thousands of unregistered kilns, foundries and mines. How do they continually escape legal controls?
The answer is of course political protection: kiln owners are warned in advance of periodic crackdowns, police and workplace inspectors are bribed, many villages are ruled by the profiteers or their relatives.
Law of profit
Nobody is really shocked to learn that the slavers and traffickers were protected at local level. But this time the central government's credibility is also on the line.
And what difference will new laws passed by the central government make? China already has laws prohibiting child labour and other abuses, but these laws are simply ignored. The measures announced by central government are about damage limitation - preventing the public outcry from getting out of hand. The only law that is never disobeyed in today's China seems to be the law of profit!
The striking thing about the government's deliberations is that no section of the ruling 'communist' party - whose name in Chinese means 'the party of public property' - has raised the idea of re-imposing state control over 'slave' industries such as coal mining, metal-working and building materials.
China's communist party is as determined as any capitalist government, if not more determined, to resist measures that could indicate a reversal of its neo-liberal 'reform and opening' programme.
They fear that measures renewing state control, even implemented bureaucratically and undemocratically as previously under Maoism, would strengthen the position of workers, and could trigger demands for more and bolder measures against the profiteers.
In The Socialist 12 July 2007:
National Shop Stewards Network
Socialist Party workplace news
Socialist Party NHS campaign
Tales from the council chambers
Marxist analysis: history
Socialist Party news and analysis
Socialist Party events
Socialist Party review
International socialist news and analysis