TIANJIN, China (AP) — Workers at a Japanese-owned electronics factory in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin striked over pay and benefits for a third day Thursday, the latest in a spate of labor disputes as an increasingly restive workforce demands better conditions.
More than 100 workers in green uniforms, mostly women, were standing and sitting on the steps leading into the Tianjin Mitsumi Electric factory, which makes parts for electronic appliances. Its entrance was blocked by two police buses and the area swarmed with dozens of plainclothes security officials.
Handwritten signs posted on the factory gates called on owners to "Return Our Blood Money," and for local leaders to give workers a fair wage.
Beijing is normally quick to crush mass protests but the labor strikes this summer have spread as the government tries to restructure its export-driven economy to become more self-sustaining though measures aimed at increasing the incomes of ordinary people.
Migrant laborers who have traditionally accepted low-paying assembly line jobs are having some success in extracting higher pay and better working conditions from foreign companies amid a tight labor market as China's economy booms.
Another reason for the new assertiveness lies in the youthfulness of many current workers. Growing up in a time of relative prosperity in China, they refuse to simply eek out a modest living like those before them, but instead expect conditions more in line with their foreign counterparts.
"We're on strike because the factory has never increased our wages and they keep increasing our workload. It's too tiring," a worker, who gave only her surname Wang, told The Associated Press when reached on her cell phone.
Foreign journalists who arrived at the factory were detained by security within minutes, taken to a nearby hotel for questioning and then ordered to leave the area. A photographer from The Associated Press was ordered to delete photos from his camera.
In Tokyo, Mitsumi Electric Co. spokesman Yoshitsugu Murakami said production at its Tianjin factory has been stopped since Tuesday, apparently after factory workers walked out, demanding improved working conditions.
Workers at the factory — which employs about 2,800 people — are unionized and they have submitted a list of requests, which Murakami declined to elaborate on. Company officials are currently trying to assess the situation. He said he did not have information indicating a major rally at the factory.
Factory managers called workers on Thursday and told them not to report to work, Wang said. But she was unsure whether workers were negotiating with the company and whether she should go to work on Friday.
Another worker told the official Xinhua News Agency that a new hire makes 1,500 yuan ($220) a month, working six days a week with two hours of overtime every day.
Murakami said the factory is located in the same district as other Japanese factories, such as Toyota and Honda affiliates. "We suspect the situation might have been affected by the earlier developments" at other factories, he said.
Phones rang unanswered at the factory. A woman who answered the phone at the Tianjin Trade Union office said she would refer questions to her supervisor.