China coal miners on strike over wages, layoff fears
Thousands of miners in China's coal-rich north have gone on strike over months of unpaid wages and fears that government calls to restructure their state-owned employer will lead to mass layoffs.
Video obtained by AFP on Monday showed protesters marching through the streets of Shuangyashan city in Heilongjiang province, venting their frustration at Longmay Mining Holding Group, the biggest coal firm in northeast China.
Pictures showed enormous crowds filling the streets. "I'm on my knees, my family can't eat," an elderly woman pleaded with a man who appeared to be a government official.
"Tell me, how can we live?" she shouted, before collapsing and being rushed away by fellow protesters. The situation in Heilongjiang exemplifies the dilemma faced by Chinese authorities, who say they want to reform the world's second-largest economy and at the same time seek to avoid unrest.
China's state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are plagued by overcapacity and many are unviable, but the government has been loathe to kill off such "zombie" companies, fearing unemployment could lead to instability.
But it plans to lay off about 1.8 million workers in the steel and coal industries, a human resources and social security ministry official said last month.
In the video footage from Heilongjiang, dozens of police cars, lights flashing, lined the streets, and protesters complained of violence by authorities as tensions mounted.