Interview: True Matilda
Politics: State of Play
Industrial: Capital Dilemmas
Unions: Rhodes Scholars
National Focus: Rennovating the Lodge
International: People Power
Economics: A Bit Rich
History: Mine Shafts
Safety: Sick Of Fighting
Organising: Building a Wave
Poetry: Anger In The Bush(es)
Review: The Battle Of Algiers
Culture: The Word On The Street
The Locker Room
Co-operating At All Costs
All Good Except You
Union activists in Australia should ready themselves to support this democratic struggle, just as we backed the struggle of working people in South Africa.
A win for working people in China will be a win for working people in this country.
Workers Online readers should begin a debate as to what we can do to promote workers rights in China.
The key debate is do we support only independent workers rights organisers, the oppositionists, or can we work fruitfully with the official trade union structure.
The big event, which is leading to a major showdown over workers rights, will be the Beijing Olympics.
Human rights activists across the globe are well into the planning stages to build a protest movement to force China to open up and respect democratic norms before the Olympics' opening ceremony.
As the Athens Games closed Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report calling on China to redress the human rights crisis in their country before the Beijing Olympics starts.
The US-based HRW warned global businesses they should not associate themselves with the Beijing sportsfest if nothing has been done about workers' rights by the time of the Opening Ceremony.
HRW said that by 2008, China should reform its national laws and local regulations to comply with international labour rights standards and should effectively enforce them.
China's national laws prohibit workers from organizing independent unions, and do not explicitly protect the right to strike. Only one organisation, the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), can legally represent workers, and local authorities and Communist Party committees control its local offices.
The international global union movement led by the ICFTU can also be expected to improve its campaigning around workers rights in the lead up to the next Olympics.
A few well-placed protests in Athens, as the Greek games started, shows the ICFTU's campaigning abilities, in coalition with other community organisations, to highlight the sweatshops behind much of the Olympics sportswear industry.
And here in Australia another part of the struggle for Chinese workers rights will be focussed on the push for an Australia-China Free Trade Agreement which could undermine the rights of workers in Australia - and do little or nothing to improve the rights of workers in China.
While the Olympics - and the free trade agreement - becomes the anchor for an Australian and a global protest campaign Chinese workers are mounting their own struggles and ensuring their voices are heard.
There are many reports of self-organised workers protesting for pay, pensions and against management corruption - many of the leaders of these groups are grabbed by local police, beaten up and jailed.
I have written before for Workers Online about what some argue is an extra-ordinary loose underground movement of workers rights organisers who catch trains from city-to-city to help organise the voice of disgruntled workers who need help to focus their struggles.
Harsh crackdowns against the workers' leaders are failing to stop the worker protests. New people are always prepared to step forward to organise and lead new worker protests.
Just last week the internet was used to leak out reports of thousands of workers barricading themselves into a factory in China's fourth biggest city - Chongqing - to protest the corrupt sale of a state enterprise.
There are two or three major organisations, in Hong Kong and Western countries, set up to provide support and information about these workers' protests.
Many of them have an English-language presence on the web to provide information to potential supporters - such as China Labour Bulletin; Asian Labour News and China Labour Watch.
The Chinese government can see the crisis growing, they understand they must do something if they are to avoid violent outbreaks spreading and breaking down society.
Market pressures are also forcing changes in China because despite its huge population the booming eastern states of China are reporting massive labour shortages.
The word about poor working conditions, horrible pay, long hours and unsafe workplaces has filtered back to the inland villages.
Migrant workers from rural villages are owed a staggering 360 billion yuan (43 billion US dollars) by bosses who sometimes maker workers wait to be paid for jobs up to 10 years.
Chinese media recently reported a nationwide investigation which found 124,000 construction sites where peasants were toiling all day even though they were being paid late or never.
Increasingly the poor peasants are refusing to work in these unsafe places or for bosses who won't pay decent wages - recent reports show that the peasants would prefer to stay on their farms rather than migrate to the big cities if they know they will be mistreated
Beijing officials are now working on ways to tempt these peasants to travel to the big cities to help grown the economy - many admit this can only be done if workers rights are improved, unions are stronger and pay and working conditions are dramatically improved.
The crisis over workplace safety is one that is of particular concern and the government has opened itself up to international help from the ILO and other non-government organisations to improve OHS standard.
They also recently passed important HIV legislation to try to stop the spreading discrimination against workers with HIV.
But workplace safety in the nation's coalmines is at particularly horrific levels - approximately 313 people die per month in the coal industry. One estimate shows nearly 3 people die for every million tons of coal produced in China.
Australia's mining union, under John Maitland, has been a world leader in working with China's coal union to build new safety standards in that country.
The relationship between Western unions and the union movement in China is one that should be openly debated.
Many American unions argue that the democratic West should not co-operate with Stalinist state-controlled unions in China.
Some unions in Europe argue what could be called an 'entrist' policy. Work with the existing trade unions and help them reform from within themselves.
This debate is reminiscent of what happened in Eastern Europe as the Iron Curtain came down. American unions provided finances for new independent structures. Scandinavian unions working with existing official structures if they were prepared to reform from within. While other groups taking a hands-off attitude.
Certainly many people in the official trade union movement - the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) - realise that there is a need for change in the way workers are represented in their country.
There are some examples - especially in the south near the growing economic zones around Hong Kong - of official trade unionists acting in a very independent minded manner to effectively represent working people.
There are also examples of heroic lawyers who work out of run-down facilities and devote all their time to use the existing legal framework to defend workers' rights.
But the evidence is there that top trade unionist in the official structure are very angry that the new opening to the West has seen many foreign investors mistreating their workers and ignoring the existing laws about workers rights and trade unions.
The China Daily reported that Chinese unionists are complaining that many private and foreign companies have deprived workers of their rights to set up trade unions.
One of the most prominent foreign firms ignoring local trade union laws is the global union-hating Wal-Mart chain, which is opening retail stores across the nation.
Despite promises to the Chinese Government to obey local laws Wal-Mart is refusing to allow the ACFTU to set up state-controlled trade unions in their stores - and that's causing the American retail chain.
In bustling rich and lucrative Shanghai, the local city council has just rejected Wal-Mart stores' application to set up a branch in the city because the American company refused to allow trade unions.
The allegations against foreign comes from an investigation conducted by the ACFTU which says unions are needed to play an increasing role in protecting workers' legal rights.
"Basically, the companies are infringing on workers' freedom of association which is entitled by the Constitution," Jiang Nan, of the ACFTU told China Daily.
It is not just the athletes who must keep their eye on the glories that the Beijing Olympics offer.
Union activists in Australia should consider working with global allies on a strategy to make the Olympics work for the working people of China.
But we do need to create a debate about how this can best be done - should we work only with independent activists and international oppositionist groups or can we help improve local workers rights by working with existing structures and institutions.
Whichever path we choose a win for Chinese workers will be a win for Australian workers.
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