China’s workers get some respect again from top leaders

Top-level meeting focuses on rights and reforms for working class as nation faces unprecedented challenges

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 February, 2017, 11:57pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 February, 2017, 12:01am

The mainland has been on the capitalist track for decades, but its working class has been given its due again by a top leadership faced with unprecedented challenges in social stability and economic development.

To create a “responsible and devoted” team of manufacturing workers, the mainland should accelerate reforms to smooth their career paths and protect their rights and interests, President Xi Jinping told the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms on Monday.

The meeting, attended by top leaders and related ministry heads, called the working class the leading strata of the nation and passed a reform proposal for manufacturing workers, Xinhua reported.

Although the working class holds a high position in the Communist Party’s charter for its role in helping it win power, it has been weakened politically and economically amid rapid development over the past few decades, analysts say.

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The meeting comes as private capital is leaving the country, companies are struggling, and people are losing jobs amid slower economic growth and a possible trade war with the United States.

“Gestures and efforts to soothe workers mean a lot to social stability, which is a big matter for the party before the 19th party congress, a top-level power reshuffle,” said Zhang Lifan, a historian and political commentator.

The government has announced plans to lay off 1.8 million steel and coal workers to reduce industrial overcapacity. Factories and mines are withholding wages and benefits, laying off staff, or shutting down. Strikes and labour protests have erupted across the country.

Last year, hundreds of angry employees at the state-owned Longmay Mining Group staged daring protests over unpaid salaries, denouncing the provincial governor as he and other leaders gathered for an annual meeting in Beijing.

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Hu Xingdou, a political economist with the Beijing Institute of Technology, said the government desperately needed to motivate workers to drive growth in the long term. While China had tapped cheap labour to drive skyrocketing growth in the past, little effort had been made to improve workers’ skills and knowledge through education or training, Hu said.

“The focus of the reforms should be on improving workers’ status, instead of only caring for industries and the economy,” he said.

The meeting also passed a proposal to reform personnel management in the state media, with an improved appraisal system for reporters, editors and managers to enhance their loyalty.

With traditional media hit hard by the rise of social media in the digital era, the authorities had to come up with solutions to ensure their mouthpieces would still be useful, the analysts said. The nation’s internet censors swore loyalty to the party last year to ensure a Beijing-friendly consensus ahead of the key party congress.

In the meeting, Xi also called for further reform of the policy covering permanent residency for foreigners. The meeting fell on the same day the Ministry of Public Security reported that 1,576 foreigners became permanent residents last year, an increase of 163 per cent over 2015.