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China: Occupations and blockades force Chinese state onto defensive

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The speed with which the economic downturn has hit China's export industries has led to a spate of company closures and layoffs. In the first half of the year, the Pearl River Delta is reported to have lost 67,000 small firms, those employing only a handful of workers and least able to survive even temporary drops in orders. Now, however, larger factories in the major industrial cities of Shenzhen, Dongguan and Guangzhou are facing difficulty and 9000 larger factories, from a total of 45,000, are expected to close by the end of January. The workers' response has been just as dramatic.

After three months of not being paid, 7,000 workers at Smart Union, a toy manufacturer in Dongguan, went on strike and occupied their factory until the local government agreed to pay at least two months' back pay, a total of $3.5 million. In Wujiang, some 1,000 workers, laid off from a bankrupt textile company, blockaded the main roads until they were paid four months' salary. Nor are these isolated incidents.

Reliable reports suggest that strikes involving more than 1000 workers have become a daily occurrence in China. This would be a remarkable level of class struggle in any country but in China, where strikes are illegal and the only unions are state run, it is unprecedented in the modern era.

The level of militant struggle is testimony not only to the sudden change in economic circumstances but also to levels of confidence and organisation that workers have developed during the years of the boom. In recent years, a combination of labour shortages, growing militancy and the Communist Party's deep fear of social unrest has led to significant steps forward in working-class organisation.

In Shenzhen, for example, a workers' centre, offering legal advice and support to workers in dispute over pay, working conditions and employment rights, has established a semi-illegal existence despite initial harassment from the authorities. The official unions within the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) have also found it necessary to be more active on behalf of their members, although they are still very far from being independent working-class organisations and remain constitutionally subordinate to the Communist Party. Particularly in foreign-owned companies, workers have sometimes been able to make use of the official unions to enforce legal rights that have been widely ignored.

The unknown workers' leaders who have led these recent struggles are right to make use of every existing organisation and legal formality in order to defend workers' interests and to create forums in which those interests can be defined and formulated. However, China remains a one-party dictatorship and, while the Communist Party can be forced to make concessions, it cannot tolerate any fundamental challenge to its rule.

It presents that rule as the defence of China's "national interest" and accuses any who oppose it of being unpatriotic, enemies of the people and dividers of the nation. In reality, as all recent history has shown, rule by the Communist Party means rule in the interests of big capital. This does not necessarily mean the interest of every particular big capitalist but in the interests of capitalism as a system.

Within that system, the interests of capital and of the working-class are incompatible. Working-class militancy does not create "unnecessary" divisions within society; those divisions are real and already exist. The approaching economic downturn will make this clearer than ever; bosses will try to defend their profits by cutting wages, laying off workers even taking their capital out of the country altogether.

Whether those bosses are themselves Chinese or foreign they have, ultimately, the same class interest and the Communist Party generally defends it. That is why any determined defence of workers' interests, whether those are economic, concerning wages, working conditions and job security or political, the right to form independent and self-governing trade unions and political parties, will inevitably become a fight against both the capitalists and against the dictatorship of the Communist Party. As economic conditions worsen, so the class struggle will become more bitter. Short term concessions such as compensation for unpaid wages or allowing workers to continue to live in dormitories of firms that have closed, will not be enough to defuse workers' anger or to meet their needs.

Tens of millions of workers, particularly migrant workers, have no union representation, very often not even the legal right to live in the cities and they and their families often have no right to any welfare support. In these conditions, new forms of organisation are necessary, new, independent trade unions certainly but also organisations of the unemployed, of women and of the youth.

These organisations themselves need to be brought together and coordinated through democratically elected, delegate-based workers' councils, like those that began to be formed during the second revolution, from 1925 to 1927. Above all, at every stage of the developing struggle, those who come to see the need for the overthrow of the one-party dictatorship, those who reject the programme of capitalist development and are committed to building a socialist China based on the expropriation of capital and its replacement by a democratically planned socialist economy, need to organise themselves politically as a new revolutionary party.

The period of globalisation, which is now in crisis, was made possible by the re-integration of China into the global economy. Under capitalism, that integration could only take the form of increased exploitation of China's workers and farmers, creating a new capitalist class as well as drawing back the capitalists who fled the country in 1949.

Internationally, it allowed US imperialism to overcome its declining economic vitality although, as events demonstrate almost daily, this could only ever be a temporary reprieve. As the crisis unfolds, the imperialist powers, in particular, will try to force its effects onto other countries, moving factories, transferring investment, creating tariff barriers and fermenting conflicts and ultimately war.

Against this, the workers of all countries need to coordinate their struggles, counter the chauvinist poison of their rulers and develop a programme for the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement by internationally planned economy. That is why the revolutionary parties that must be built in every country must themselves be internationally coordinated and led through the founding of a new, Fifth International.

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