China Plant Manager Killed in Protests

Threats of layoffs, privitization fuel violence

China scrapped the takeover of a steel plant after workers killed a manager in a possibly unique instance of industrial mob violence claiming the life of a senior executive, an official said July 27.

Workers at the Tonghua Iron and Steel Group beat to death newly appointed manager Chen Guojun on July 24 after he threatened to lay off up to 30,000 people in a controversial restructuring, the China Daily reported.

"I haven't heard of anything comparable to this," said Geoff Crothall, a researcher at the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin.

Chen was killed when about 3,000 workers forced a production shutdown at the plant in northeast China's Jilin province after they heard privately-owned Jianlong Group was taking over Tonghua, the China Daily said.

After severely beating Chen, workers clashed with police and refused to allow medical personnel to attend the badly injured general manager. Chen was declared dead late July 24 after finally being taken to hospital.

A spokesman with the Jilin provincial government confirmed the killing and the protests when contacted by AFP on July 27, but refused to go into detail.

Xinhua news agency said the government halted the merger plan "to prevent the situation from expanding", apparently referring to the worker unrest.

"In most privatizations of state-owned enterprises, workers are concerned they are going to get laid off with desultory compensation that will only last a few years," Crothall of the China Labour Bulletin told AFP.

"But what gets them angry is that the whole privatization process is done under a cloak of secrecy... there is a lack of transparency and rightly or wrongly, workers suspect wholesale corruption and a loss of state assets."

Further fuelling emotions is the fact that most workers, especially middle-aged or older workers, know that it will be difficult to find new jobs, he said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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