National Consumers League

Chinese workers facing dire consequences for speaking out


By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director Chinese bank workers who have been openly protesting the downsizing of jobs in the white-collar banking sector in China deserve great praise for their bravery. Last month the Agricultural Bank of China went public, bringing in $22 billion. A few days after, bank workers, of whom 400,000 have been laid off in the past decade as banks have gone public and shed workers, staged a protest, and some were promptly arrested. What is interesting is this very capitalist act of a bank “going public” in a formerly centrally-run, communist economy is directly connected to the layoffs. The fate of the organizers of these protests is bleak: they are often put in “black jails,” according to the New York Times, where they are sometimes beaten. The unrepentant end up in labor camps, sometimes spending several years there without being charged with a crime. The dismissals seem to follow a pattern: workers over age 40 are singled out first, offered paltry buyouts, and anyone refusing is let go without compensation. Many of these laid-off bank workers have never found other jobs since and are forced to live off their elderly parents. They share the same fate as millions of Chinese factory workers, who have found no redress in the Chinese courts. No union exists to help them take up their cause. One former banker profiled in the Times collects recyclables to feed her family. She’s recently been arrested for continuing to protest, and her son says he’s not sure when they will see her again, adding “she’s very stubborn.” The plight of these workers is reminiscent of the struggles of American workers, except that the Chinese don’t even have the semblance of a democratic court system where workers can turn for redress. I admire the courage of these people, who face dire consequences for speaking out and little hope their actions will change the system. Like workers everywhere facing long odds, they deserve our support and admiration.