It is now more than 16 years since the Tiananmen Square massacre on 4 June 1989, in which the People’s Liberation Army crushed thousands of unarmed protestors in the streets of Beijing. Following the events of that dark day, the Chinese government began a nationwide crackdown to punish those who’d had the temerity to speak out against corruption and injustice. To this day, we still don’t know how many people were killed that night, or how many are still languishing in prisons and labour camps for their participation in what the government calls merely the ‘Tiananmen incident’.
For 16 years the Chinese authorities have done everything in their power to whitewash those events, but the world still remembers. And, more importantly, China itself remembers. There are those who point to the economic gains that China has made over the past decade, as if to say: ‘Perhaps the government was too harsh then, but don’t the ends justify the means?’ I ask such people to take a closer look at China’s ‘economic miracle’, at a country rife with corrupt officials getting fantastically wealthy through the abuse of power and authority, while the people for whom they ostensibly work languish in poverty. While actively working to suppress democratic reform in China (‘because the Chinese people are not ready for democracy,’ they claim), these same officials are throwing the door wide open to any business, regardless of its nature. And so the morally corrupt and ethically bankrupt are rewarded, while many of those who strived in 1989 to bring China into a new era of social justice and accountability are still behind bars or under police surveillance.
In November last year, 166 coal miners were killed in a horrific gas explosion in Shaanxi Province, at the Chenjiashan coalmine in Tungchuan city. On 14 February this year, in the Fuxin coalmine in Liaoning Province, a further 214 miners died in a similarly appalling explosion. These events are not anomalies: they are happening with increasing frequency across the country today. But who accepts responsibility for the deaths of these workers? Sadly, in today’s China, the answer is nobody. From the owners of the mines, who place personal profit ahead of human life, to the corrupt government officials who accept bribes from the owners in exchange for looking the other way, the real culprits in the deaths of these workers are the same evils that so many gathered in Tiananmen in 1989 to fight against: official corruption, cynicism and the blind pursuit of profit.
In many ways, things have become worse. Public health policy in China is failing dismally. How many retired and unemployed workers die daily, unable to afford increasingly expensive medical treatments that might save their lives? And how many more workers have died, and are dying, of occupational diseases that could be minimised – or in many cases avoided entirely – by improving basic workplace health and safety? Worse still, how many of these victims of occupational diseases wind up intentionally misdiagnosed by corrupt, bribe taking, government-run occupational health agencies so that the companies whose criminal negligence caused their illnesses can avoid paying compensation? Such things are daily realities nowadays for countless Chinese people.
Though told in different accents and dialects, the stories coming from all over China are remarkably similar in nature: workers are losing their health because factory owners are able to bribe their way out of providing adequate health and safety protection. Children from rural villages are forced by rising school fees and skyrocketing living costs to work in factories to help feed their families. Their parents are being mangled and even killed, all because of the bosses’ criminal negligence.
But despite continuing suppression, the victims of injustice and corruption are once again refusing to keep silent. The past few years have seen migrant workers across the country struggling for their rights and slowly advancing their causes. And there have been real victories. In October 2004, tens of thousands of farmers in Hanyuan city, in Sichuan province, were dislodged from their land by a government-sponsored hydroelectric project and corrupt local officials confiscated their compensation money. The farmers’ mass protests actually succeeded in stopping construction of the dam, despite an attempt by the local government to quell the protests by sending in the military police.
In Zhejiang province, farmers blocked the entrance of a factory and covered the surrounding area with industrial waste. The factory owner called on cronies in the local government to quell the disturbance, and the government again responded by sending in military police. But the farmers were fighting for their very lives, and in their struggle for survival they didn’t merely hold their own but actually blocked the military police from entering their village. Similar scenes occurred in towns in Guangdong and Guangxi provinces and elsewhere when villagers refused to roll over and accept being cheated out of their land by corrupt local officials hoping to sell it for a quick profit.
In cities, the peaceful struggles by ordinary Chinese citizens against oppression and corruption are also multiplying. Joining the list of workers fighting against poor working conditions, wage arrears and unfair dismissal in recent years are workers at the Daqing petroleum factory in Heilongjiang province; workers at the Ferro-alloy factory of Liaoyang city; textile workers in factories in Suizhou and Xianyang; electronics and shoe factory workers in Shenzhen; and teachers in Shandong, Hubei and Guangxi, to name but a few. The government responds by handing out longer prison sentences to organisers, as in the case of the Ferro-alloy factory workers, two of whose leaders are now serving prison sentences of four and seven years.
But in the cities, too, there have been victories. After 50,000 retrenched Daqing workers staged a three-month protest, the local government finally promised increased payouts for workers made redundant and promised to hire the children of retrenched workers. And at the Japanese-owned Uniden electronic factory in Shenzhen, workers demanded to be allowed to set up a trade union to fight for legal working hours and reasonable wages. After a large and well-publicised protest, the factory owner caved in. Sixteen years on from 4 June 1989, the social struggle that took such a bloody turn on that day has continued to deepen and intensify, in the face of all the efforts to suppress it.
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill