by for The New York Times
GUANGZHOU, China — For nearly seven years, Li Wei rose before dawn seven days a week for his 10-hour shift at the steel plant, returning home each night soaked in sweat, the clank of heavy machinery still ringing in his ears. But last month, the 31-year-old welder stood outside the plant with hundreds of co-workers, picketing against pay cuts and singing patriotic battle hymns.
Within a week, the authorities declared their strike illegal, threatening fines and imprisonment. The police descended on the plant by the hundreds, tearing down signs and ordering the protesters to go back to work. “I’ve sacrificed my life for this company,” Mr. Li told officers as they sought to disperse the workers. “How can you do this?”
As China’s economy slows after more than two decades of breakneck growth, strikes and labor protests have erupted across the country. Factories, mines and other businesses are withholding wages and benefits, laying off staff or shutting down altogether. Worried about their prospects in a gloomy job market, workers are fighting back with unusual ferocity.
Last week, hundreds if not thousands of angry employees of the state-owned Longmay Mining Group, the biggest coal company in northeasternChina, staged one of the most politically daring protests over unpaid salaries yet, denouncing the provincial governor as he and other senior leaders gathered for an annual meeting in Beijing.
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