July 16, 2024

Truckers Protest, Adding to Chinese Fears of Unrest

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at a container-handling facility at the city’s Baoshan port, news reports stated, monitored by dozens of police officers. On Thursday, thousands of drivers staged a noisy protest at the huge Waigaoqiao port, smashing truck windows of drivers who had refused to join them, and officers arrested several drivers who tried to overturn a police car.

The protests threatened to snarl operations at the world’s busiest harbor, but analysts said that any impact was likely to be small. China’s state-controlled newspapers ignored the strike, and censors removed reports on the disturbance from Web sites.

Online reports quoted by the Chinese newspaper Economic Observer said that the truckers intended the blockage of the Shanghai ports to last three days.

The drivers were protesting low wages, increased fuel prices — the government recently raised diesel prices by five percent — and higher fees imposed by port operators. “The various fees they have to pay leave them no profit,” said Liu Cheng, a law professor and labor specialist at Shanghai Normal University. “This kind of conflict is hard to resolve because it’s the government that is collecting those fees.”

The complaints mirror general unhappiness with inflation here. Prices rose 5.4 percent last month compared with the preceding March, the largest increase since 2008, but a worrisome rise in month-to-month prices suggests to some analysts that the annual inflation rate could approach the double-digit range.

The increase in food prices — 11.7 percent in the first quarter of this year — is a crucial factor in a nation where food is the major expense in some household budgets.

Other protests so far have been scant. But the government, mindful that soaring inflation played a crucial role in the 1989 protests that climaxed in the bloody suppression of demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, has taken pains to show concern.

Premier Wen Jiabao has said that he checks prices of staples daily, and has frequently said that inflation and corruption are the greatest dangers to national stability.

But the government has other worries as well. For months, it has been vigorously squelching civil dissent by political activists, a campaign that has included the arrests and disappearances of prominent human rights lawyers and social critics like Ai Weiwei, the artist.

The government appears determined to crush even isolated protests lest they merge into a larger uprising that might threaten the Communist Party’s hold on power.

China was hit with a spate of worker protests last year, also fueled by complaints about low wages and high prices, which led to wage increases in some key industries. But inflation now appears to be eroding those gains.

On Friday, in what appeared to be a government bid to assuage some of the current economic unhappiness, Shanghai newspapers reported that the government would reduce the monthly fees that independent taxi drivers must pay the companies that employ them, to $1,260 from $1,305.

In 2008, China was hit with a wave of strikes by taxi and bus drivers unhappy with the erosion in their take-home pay.

Many experts say that China’s own monetary policies fuel inflation, and that the global rise in food and oil prices has only worsened the situation here.

Mia Li contributed research.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/23/world/asia/23shanghai.html?partner=rss&emc=rss