REPEATED labour troubles in Sichuan and other provinces have forced the party leadership to have second thoughts on revising the status of workers as 'the masters of the state'. Chinese sources said a group of reform-minded cadres had suggested workers be officially reclassified as no more than 'hired employees' whose status, salaries and perks would be determined by the forces of supply and demand. The result was that workers would be treated in the same way as commodities in the marketplace. The cadres, some of them close to President Jiang Zemin, were confident a politically acceptable version of their proposals would be adopted by the forthcoming 15th party congress. They pointed out in internal discussions that measures to reform state-owned enterprises, such as dismissing excess labourers, could not go ahead if workers still enjoyed the status of masters of the country. Recent instances of labour unrest, however, have provided the leftists, or remnant Maoists, with a pretext to press their opposition to 'downgrading' the status of workers. A labour source said yesterday the ideologues had mounted a new campaign to protect their rights. In a series of internal papers, the commissars pointed out that workers' status as masters of the state was guaranteed by the party charter and the constitution. Workers could not be downgraded as mere hired hands or commodities, they said. The ideologues raised objections to giving too much authority to the directors or managers of factories. Meanwhile, Xinhua (the New China News Agency) reported yesterday that different regions had given 'enthusiastic support' to the strengthening of the People's Armed Police. The paramilitary force has been used to contain disturbances by disgruntled workers and farmers. Xinhua quoted cadres in a poor district in Shanxi province as saying the police would have priority access to resources. Officers were allowed to sit in on party and government meetings in many provinces.