Well-known labour activists detained by Shenzhen police

At least five Chinese labour activists have been detained in what appears to be a coordinated police crackdown late on the evening of 20 January.

At least five Chinese labour activists have been detained in what appears to be a coordinated police crackdown late on the evening of 20 January.

Those detained include the director of the Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service Centre, Zhang Zhiru, well-known labour activist Wu Guijun, plus, Jian Hui, Song Jiahui and He Yuancheng. Some of those detained are now based outside of Shenzhen but all had prior connections to labour groups in the city.

Wu Guijun, Zhang Zhiru and He Yuancheng have been charged with disturbing public order (扰乱社会秩序), according to people familiar with the case. The status of Jian Hui and Song Jiahui is currently unclear.

The reason for the sudden crackdown is also unclear. However, it may well be related to the on-going dispute at Jasic Technology, which attracted considerable media attention and support from student groups across China. Four of the worker activists at Jasic; Mi Jiuping, Li Zhan, Yu Juncong and Liu Penghua remain in custody in Shenzhen, charged with gathering a crowd to disrupt social order. A staff member of a local labour group and two local trade union officials, among several others have also been detained in relation to the case.

It is possible that, in the light of the Jasic case and the upsurge in worker activism in Shenzhen – there have been at least 17 strikes and protests in the municipality since 1 October last year – the authorities have decided to take resolute action against the labour activists who are dedicated to helping workers defend their legal rights.

Wu Guijun first came to light as an activist in 2013 when he organized workers at Hong Kong-owned furniture maker Diweixin in Shenzhen in protest at the company’s refusal to discuss compensation for the planned closure and relocation of the factory. He was detained for more than a year before being released without charge in June 2014 (see photo below). At which point he began his career as an independent activist helping factory workers in the city to claim social insurance and other entitlements.

Zhang Zhiru is one of the most prominent labour activists in Shenzhen. After working on construction sites and assembly lines in his home province of Hunan for many years, Zhang founded the Chunfeng Labour Dispute Service Centre in 2007. The centre was involved in numerous labour disputes during the 2010s and guided thousands of workers through collective bargaining with their employers. The centre even won praise from state-run media outlet Global Times in 2014.

Jian Hui worked at Chunfeng during this period, while He Yuancheng was the former editor of the Collective Bargaining Forum (集体谈判论坛). Song Jiahui was formerly a worker at the Lide Shoe factory in Guangzhou and was elected worker representative in arguably the most successful collective bargaining case in the recent history of the workers’ movement in China.