Beijing bids to revamp unions
By WILLY WO-LAP LAM
BEIJING is trying to head off labour unrest by improving the work of the official trade union organisation.
Pioneering cities have also introduced rudimentary forms of job insurance.
Sources said the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) was laying the groundwork for a national congress later this year.
Modernising the official trade unions has become important following a spate of industrial unrest.
A key task is expected to be thrashing out ways to mollify workers whose livelihood and income are threatened by reform.
For example, the sources said, local-level branches of the ACFTU might be given more authority to help workers bargain for subsidies to help blunt the impact of inflation.
The unions would also favour some form of job insurance for workers laid off by factories which have closed in the wake of reforms.
Conservative union chiefs, including ACFTU vice-president Yang Xingfu and the head of its organisation department Xiao Jijia, are expected to step down at the national congress.
The two were instrumental in purging unionists who were active in the 1989 pro-democracy movement.
A veteran ideologue and former party secretary of a state petrochemical monopoly, Mr Yang reportedly sacked or sidelined associates of former ACFTU party boss Zhu Houze, who was reprimanded after the June 4 crackdown.
Analysts said that while their replacements might lobby harder for labour welfare, they would not relax political control.
And participants in the congress are expected to stress tight Communist Party control of the unions.
Since spring, security departments have stepped up surveillance of members of disbanded ''wild cat'' unions which were active in early 1989.
Analysts said it was unlikely Beijing would liberalise laws banning strikes or private labour organisations.
Labour sources said workers in cities such as Shanghai and Zhuhai had in recent months demanded the right to form non-official trade unions.
The authorities are said to be particularly worried because the urge to form private unions seems to be strong among workers in joint-venture concerns.
For example, employees in a joint-venture hotel in Shanghai tried to set up their own organisation during a go-slow action last month to protest pay levels.
Staff in several joint-ventures in the Zhuhai special economic zone also demanded the right to form unions before their strikes fizzled out in early summer.
Meanwhile, several cities have announced various programmes of job insurance and other kinds of welfare.
Officials in Dalian, in the northeastern Liaoning province, indicated last week they had extended insurance coverage to all local enterprise workers from this month onwards.
About 1.07 million workers in more than 5,900 Dalian enterprises had already entered the insurance scheme by June and some 22,000 workers had received unemployment benefits.
But Western economists said that with the national credit crunch, most local governments lacked the funds to finance a job insurance programme.