It is a little strange to see battles over privatization in China again in 2009. The feeling is like the late 90s / early 2000s, when thousands filled the streets of Daqing, Liaoyang and elsewhere, playing the Internationale on boomboxes and demanding accountability from corrupt managers plundering state assets.
I would have guessed that the country's migrant workers, who have been laid off by the tens of millions since the onset of the global financial crisis, would be at the heart of labor unrest this year. Yet, once again, the socialist heritage and tighter organization of state-owned enterprise workers has once again pushed them, not migrants, to the front.
The scene is different this time around, though. Crucially, at least in the most high-profile cases, the workers seem to be winning. Linzhou Iron & Steel in Anyang City, a state-owned steel mill in Henan, just shelved privatization plans after thousands of workers protested and took an official hostage. This follows the capitulation of bosses and local authorities in Jilin after workers killed an executive of Tonghua Iron & Steel Works in a riot.
While I was in China recently, Xin Jing Bao, did an interesting series of stories about the background of the Tonghua riots. Among other things, it interestingly noted that police were focusing on finding which workers put up posters urging a protest... really, that was most important? Not who killed the boss? An interesting insight into the mindset of some authorities.
Anyway... it remains to be seen whether the tactics and plain sense of self-worth and of social justice possessed by SOE workers will have any impact on China's working class as a whole.
P.S. I'm afraid that on re-reading my previous post, I realized it was rather repetitive of points I've made elsewhere. It also owed itself to my exchanges with Woodoo and others over at ChinaGeeks.