Catastrophes in China: The reality of the 'economic miracle'

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In China explosions and mine collapses follow one another in a frightening rhythm. Last August, in Guangdong province, 101 miners were trapped in the mine and drowned in millions of cubic metres of water. At the same time an explosion in Guizhou province killed 14 miners. Recently, a new explosion at a mine in Dong province in northern China cost the lives of another 134 miners. In the autumn accidents struck this sector on an almost daily basis. These accidents, one after the other, make the mines in China the most dangerous in the world with 6000 official deaths per year, but closer to 20,000 according to independent sources. This is 45 times greater than South Africa and one hundred times that of the United States. The example of the coalmines dramatically illustrates the barbaric reality that is hidden behind the famous growth rates of Chinese capitalism. In the provinces of Shianxi, Hebei, Heilongjiang and Inner Mongolian, coal resources are abundant. For ten years, the government, so as to increase production at any price, has massively privatised the mines. The result is that licences are purchased at little cost from bureaucrats who are open to bribes. In the mines, the workers enter by crawling on their bellies and without any safety or security equipment. In these conditions of ferocious exploitation, catastrophes can only increase (landslides, explosions). “In 2005, the number of deaths overtook those of 2004: 717 deaths for the first six months of the year, against 347 for the same period of the previous year (according to the Information Bulletin of the State Security Commission)” (1). Miners in China know the risks very well. But for them there’s no choice. They accept the risks or else see their families die of hunger. And for a miserable wage of a dollar a day, seven days out of seven, in inhuman conditions. The conditions of work and exploitation are no better in the public mines where everything is sacrificed for profitability. The bureaucrats, provincial and governmental officials, rotted by corruption, hide the reality by all means possible and imaginable. It’s the policy of the left and the unions in places like Britain to try to drag workers into the defence of the public services. China demonstrates that when circumstances allow, capitalism makes no difference between the public and private sector. Thus in the large mining complexes in the public sector: “Bu Guishing confirms that some local officials hasten to close down the dangerous workings as soon as there’s wind of a visit of inspectors from the provincial authorities. When the latter arrive they find the machinery still warm, but the mine is empty of its personnel, which makes the inspection impossible” (2). In China we can estimate the working class at a 100 million inhabitants, without counting the “worker-peasants”, living precarious lives with a rate of unemployment of 50%. The redundant workers call themselves the xiapang (gone down from the job). The dreadful conditions of life, where every day workers must risk their lives in order not to die of hunger, leads, despite repression, to often violent explosions of anger. “Almost every day, protests, workers’ strikes or peasant agitations happen in China. Ween Tiejun, a specialist in social questions, estimates 60,000 per year” (1).

The bourgeoisie’s contempt for proletarian lives

“Advice to the population of Harbin: in response to fears about the pollution on Song Hua river following an explosion in a chemical faction in the town of Julin, the Environment Office had declared that no trace of pollution has yet been detected” (2). Like the bourgeoisie all over the world, the Chinese bourgeoisie produces the most shameful lies. The catastrophe was only recognised on the 22nd of November, effectively nine days after it took place. The first declarations of the authorities regarding cutting water supplies were about “maintenance procedures”. Harbin is an agglomeration of 9 million people, situated downstream of the Song Hua. This important town has used the waters needed for the population for hundreds of years. Pollution by benzene, an extremely dangerous product for human life, affected the whole upstream course of the river, the sheet of pollution spreading more than 80 km. But worse still, the upstream pollution of the Song Hua caused a human disaster in all the towns and districts situated downstream, as in Harbin, but also Mulan, Tonghe and Juamusi. At the end of November another chemical explosion hit the South West of the country, without, up to now, any viable information about it coming out of China. We can thus read in Liberation of November 28: “The victims of the mine of Dong Feng, as well as the environmental damage, which is still difficult to evaluate in the general obscurity around the Jalin catastrophe, must be added to a list which is growing daily”.

The need for solidarity with the workers in China

This succession of catastrophes in China reveals to the eyes of the entire proletariat of the world the reality of the “Chinese economic miracle”. The growth rate of almost 10% hides the ferocious exploitation of the workers in this country, as well as the Chinese bourgeoisie’s total contempt for human life, which is no different from bourgeoisie in the rest of the world. China is an economic monster built on sand. It is developing by sucking the blood of the proletariat and by destroying, at an accelerating rate, resources and the environment. Faced with the misery and dangers to which it exposes its proletariat, explosions of anger, for the most part violently repressed, can only multiply in the future. “On the 26th June, 10,000 people marched in the streets of Cizhou, a province of Anhui, setting police cars and the police station alight. It began with a simple traffic incident when one of the new rich, who count in China today, knocked over a student. The incident turned into a riot when the police took the side of the driver” (1). The workers of every country, themselves exploited by their own bourgeoisies, must feel solidarity with their class brothers and sisters in China. The bourgeoisies of the most developed countries, such as Britain, are not that bothered about the fate of workers in China, but instead harp on about “human rights”. In reality they utilise to the maximum the fact that these workers work in particularly harsh conditions to justify their own plans to set up enterprises at maximum profit. This further justifies our own ruling classes forcing us to accept lower wages and conditions, or else they resort to relocations and outsourcing, trying to set one part of the proletariat against another. In truth only the working class, because it is an international class, defending the same interests everywhere, can feel in its blood the degrading conditions of life imposed on the workers in China. It is the development of the class struggle on an international scale that can offer a perspective to the workers of China.   Tony

(1)     China, the seamy side of power, by Cai Chongguo.

(2)     Courrier International ‘No good luck in the pits’.