The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Comrade vs comrade puzzle

Beijing, Nov. 10: If Marxists love to talk of contradictions, the Chinese communists seem to have perfected it to some kind of an art.

Here is one that has cropped up at the current congress of the Chinese communist party over the decision to admit businessmen to it: how do businessmen-turned-communists deal with communist trade unionists'

Obviously, Jiang Zemin’s pathbreaking decision to offer party membership to businessmen, big and small, continues to raise new questions, even if the delegates to the congress have generally approved it.

What happens, it is being asked, when a private entrepreneur, who has now been anointed a party member, wants to cut production costs and, therefore, wages of workers or even the workforce' What happens if the workers, also communists, want to resist that'

Li Rong Rong, director of the state economic and trade commission, offers an answer that leaves it open-ended for workers but definitive for the employers.

The workers caught in such situations have to “realise that they, too, are development workers”, he said today at the first press conference by a senior party and government functionary during the congress.

He did not elaborate on the meaning but it was clear to everyone who cared to get the message right. It simply means that the workers will have no option but to accept the job losses and wage cuts even if their owner happens to be a party member.

The government, though, has not left any doubt about its encouragement to business, even if that hurts workers. It actually started long before Jiang stunned the party by proposing membership to businessmen at the leaders’ annual summer retreat at the beach resort of Beidaihe in July last year.

Zeng Peiyan, minister in charge of the state development and planning commission, actually painted a grimmer picture for workers, particularly in the state sector, in the days ahead.

The number of state-owned units has fallen, according to him, from 100,000 to 42,800 till July. “It will drop further,” he said, adding that the emphasis henceforth in these units will be on “quality, and not quantity”.

Zeng rolled out more chilling figures for China’s workers. The closure of state-owned units so far has led to close to 25 million job losses. Of these jobless workers, 17 million have been “re-employed” and another six million are waiting to be so. Admitting that the gap between China’s haves and have-nots is widening, he said creating new jobs in small and medium units in the tertiary and service sectors could be an answer to the problem.

Despite all this, China has been able to maintain social stability because of “our improved social safety network”. He said this year alone, the state-owned units have spent close to $1 billion in social security. Analysts, however, say the social security network is crumbling and it will not be long before the state units will have to cut down heavily on it.

It is not that the state sector will disappear. Despite the growth of private enterprises, there are many businesses which are off-limits to the private sector.


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