Mass protests in China challenge COVID-19 lockdown restrictions
Republished from Life on the Left. Originally posted on Facebook by by Hong Kong activist Lam Chi Leung.
Solidarity with the mass protests demanding the lifting of lockdown restrictions and for an anti-pandemic effort that is scientific, democratic and for the people!
Since mid-November 2022, many mass protests demanding the lifting of lockdown restrictions have taken place in mainland China.
On November 14, tenants in Guangzhou's Haizhu protested against lockdown measures; on November 22-23, Foxconn workers in Zhengzhou protested demanding freedom of movement, subsidies and the implementation of promised reforms; on November 24, a fire broke out in an apartment building in Urumqi, but the rescue of fire engines was delayed by fences blocking the road, which eventually led to the death of 10 people and the injury of 9 others.
Subsequently, there were protests in Urumqi, Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Wuhan, Lanzhou, Tsinghua University, Nanjing Media College and other universities to mourn the victims of the Urumqi fire and oppose the lockdown measures, and the protests are still ongoing.
Protesters chanted slogans such as “We don’t want lockdowns and we want freedom”, “End the lockdown!” “Freedom of speech!” “Freedom of the press,” “Democracy and the rule of law,” and even physically tore down iron sheeting and fencing in place as part of lockdown measures.
Many residents of urban communities mobilised to enter into collective negotiations with neighborhood committees for the lifting of lockdown restrictions on their communities and neighborhoods. These protests shattered the inactivity and passivity that had characterised the political and social movements of the past decade, tearing a gaping hole through the impenetrable web of the regime’s surveillance and control.
The ramping up of lockdown controls and tightening of pandemic surveillance seem to indicate that the Chinese state is taking the fight against the pandemic seriously, in stark contrast to the regime’s severe suppression of pandemic-related “rumours” at the beginning of the pandemic in January 2020. However, they are two sides of the same coin – that of the regime’s bureaucratic dictatorship.
Under a bureaucratic dictatorship, the measure of an official’s competence is the efficiency with which they can suppress dissenting speech. The be-all-end-all of the bureaucracy is the maintenance of its own power. The health, lives, livelihoods, rights and freedoms of the masses become fodder for the enrichment and self-aggrandisement of the bureaucracy. The entirety of the pandemic prevention and control measures were carried out from the top down, and the people were not only deprived of any decision-making power related to these measures, but even the basic channels of dialogue with the bureaucracy were blocked.
Regardless of any adjustments in policy, the regime has constantly lied and suppressed speech since the beginning of the pandemic. The cogs of the bureaucracy have ground many lives to dust: whistle-blower doctor Li Wenliang died after contracting the disease he had attempted to warn his colleagues about; more than twenty people died in a car accident en route to a quarantine camp in Guizhou; the fire in Urumqi consumed ten more lives; residents in Sichuan were prevented from escaping their homes during an earthquake. This is not to mention the many people who were prevented from accessing essential medical care due to the lockdowns, with some paying for it with their lives.
It is of course not the rich, but the working class and the grassroots, who have borne the brunt of the severe lockdown measures. They include airport janitors who are especially vulnerable to infection, and the information revealed by the tracking and tracing of many infected people evince their harsh working and living conditions, which have been exacerbated by the lockdown. To date, the harsh lockdown measures have exacerbated the hardships brought by the already depressed economy, leading to the massive unemployment of workers, the bankruptcy of small traders, and vast quantities of unharvested agricultural products rotting in the fields.
On the other hand, collusion between the bureaucracy and business continues, especially with some connected families monopolising industries such as nucleic acid testing to make a fortune aided and abetted by bureaucratic decree. Although entire swathes of the economy are suffering, the production and profitability of some big enterprises (such as Foxconn) are still protected by bureaucratic power. The fencing-off of entire districts, the stringent implementation of universal nucleic acid testing, and the construction of warehouse-style quarantine camps has all contributed to a serious waste of various resources, and in places has even facilitated the spread of the pandemic. Draconian containment measures shut down many social service agencies, increased the burden of housework on women, and made many women and children more vulnerable to domestic violence.
During the beginning of the pandemic, due to the high rate of severe illness and mortality caused by the new coronavirus and the absence of a vaccine and proven treatment protocols, we believe that it is necessary – the point of being an obligation – for the people to accept certain physical quarantine and lockdown measures to protect the health of workers, farmers, the vulnerable and the grassroots.
However, we oppose the strengthening of state or bureaucratic power for this purpose. In many countries, right-wing and far-right governments have promoted “herd immunity” without regard for the health and lives of workers and the underprivileged, resulting in the rapid spread of the pandemic throughout the world.
Today, however, the threat posed by the Omicron variant has significantly lessened, yet the government continues to ramp up increasingly-draconian pandemic control measures in disregard of basic scientific principles, simply to strengthen and maintain the stranglehold of the bureaucracy over society. Some local governments have relaxed their control measures under the pressure of mass movements (e.g., Urumqi, Chongqing, etc.), but these results are the result of people's spontaneous protests, not of government wisdom or benevolence.
To better respond to future changes in public health and epidemic prevention policies, we advocate:
1. Democratisation of pandemic control decision-making. We support the popular campaign for grassroots participation in pandemic control decision-making, as exemplified by residents’ collective negotiations with neighbourhood committees to relax lockdown measures while protecting the infected in Beijing and other places. Community residents, workers, employees, students, and rural farmers can spontaneously form autonomous pandemic control committees to negotiate with local governments, neighbourhood committees, village committees, etc. to decide on current and future epidemic control and prevention initiatives in various living and working places, and to decide on various economic and governance issues related to pandemic control and hygiene. In addition, the government should seek to holistically gauge the people’s opinion on pandemic control policy, based on their own interests, to inform pandemic control policy without completely ignoring the people's will and rights.
2. The release all those who have been arrested, and the cessation of all censorship and any action to suppress protests. We support the slogan of "We don’t want lockdowns and we want freedom" and demand the implementation of the rights to freedom of speech, procession and assembly. We demand the disclosure of information on nucleic acid testing, the number of deaths, the number of ventilators, the number of ICU beds and the extent to which they are occupied by COVID-infected patients, the number of positive antigen and nucleic acid tests, the age and gender distribution of the sick, the extent of the pandemic’s spread in residential areas, workplaces and schools, the state’s financial expenditure on nucleic acid and vaccines, etc. We demand the severe punishment of the crony capitalists and corrupt bureaucrats who have caused casualties due to their autocratic management of the lockdown. At the same time, we call on the public to protest rationally and not to engage in violent clashes with the police.
3. The abolition of the draconian lockdown and collective quarantine measures, which should be replaced by voluntary home-based quarantine of infected people, with the government bearing the cost of home quarantine. Rent and mortgage payments should be frozen for the locked-down areas, or should be waived for future periods based on the duration of the previous lockdown. Women's self-help activities against domestic violence should be supported. To reduce the spread of various infectious diseases, more investment should be made in education and public transportation to achieve small class sizes and easy and convenient public transportation.
4. The intensive investment into and development of public healthcare. To cope with the inevitable uptick of COVID infections following the loosening of pandemic control restrictions, the unvaccinated (especially the elderly) should be encouraged to get vaccinated as soon as possible. The extremely wasteful universal nucleic acid testing campaigns should be stopped. The huge amount of money currently spent on nucleic acid testing and lockdown and control measures should not be diverted to other uses, but should be invested entirely in the medical sector and vaccine development and popularization. Medical investment should be gradually increased according to economic development and people's needs.
The government should have as its goals the strengthening of preventative measures against various infectious diseases, the construction of new and accessible healthcare facilities ranging from small community clinics to large public hospitals, the training of many new medical students and healthcare workers, and the widespread promotion of basic medical and hygiene knowledge throughout society. In order to be able to respond more effectively to public health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to demand an end to the crony-capitalist commodification and marketization of healthcare and establish a high-quality, free medical care system for all.
5. Give subsidies to unemployed workers and those who have no income because of the lockdowns and other pandemic control measures. Comprehensively improve the working conditions of workers, including improving sanitary conditions in the workplace, banning overtime work without reducing monthly income, and providing accessible healthcare by establishing community clinics in industrial areas. We demand that workers and employees who are put into mandatory quarantine be compensated for their lost wages. Workers should have the right to establish autonomous trade unions and participate in corporate decision-making and oppose the actions of some companies (such as Foxconn in Zhengzhou) that prioritise the continuation of production and the pursuit of profit above workers’ rights, wellbeing or concerns about their health and safety. Finally, workers must be guaranteed their right to sick leave and resignation at will.
6. The indiscriminate hunting and killing of wild animals must be stopped. There is a high probability that COVID-19 is transmitted from wild animals to humans, a consequence of the serious encroachment of capitalism on natural territories. We demand that the protection of wildlife be strengthened, that the encroachment of capitalist and bureaucratic interests on nature reserves cease, and that the current industrial farming methods, which are likely to lead to the spread of mutated and powerful diseases among animals, be ended and replaced by more ecological and environmentally friendly farming.
We believe that only a socialist democracy emancipated from the bureaucratic class’s monopoly on power and the profit-seeking behaviour of capital can truly give rise to a people’s campaign against the pandemic, a healthcare system that belongs to the people, and a life that belongs to the individual.