The villagers of Wukan are in a siege. They have food and water for 10 days, and riot police are stopping supplies from entering the village. They have been protesting land-grabbing for months, in particular the ‘sale’ of a pig farm to property developers, but the recent death in police custody of Xue Jinbo has ramped up their anger to the point where they expelled local government leaders and set up roadblocks to occupy their own village. Now we’re starting to hear the worrying rhetoric of repression, with vows to ‘strike hard’ against ringleaders.
Wukan is in Guangdong province, an area designed to appeal to transnational corporations. The stealing of land serves, as it has for hundreds of years, two purposes: it makes people dependent on a wage because they can’t grow their own food and live in peace in their own houses, and it gives corporations the land to exploit. In Guangdong, as transnationals and governments see it, land is for building factories on, and people for supplying cheap labour in those factories. As ever, it takes violence and corruption to impose this ‘free’ system of deregulated market forces. The people in Wukan have stood up to the violence and corruption, and they have achieved something spectacular: the authorities are, at least temporarily, on the back foot. But of course the government has power in reserve. There’s little hope for Wukan to win this if it is a straight battle between them and the riot police.
However, there is a flip side to the globalized capitalism that they’re fighting, and that’s the growing power of globalized resistance. Their fight is our fight, in three very literal ways:
1) Many of the parasitical corporations that operate in Guangdong, that buy up this stolen land and exploit the people, while contributing little to the local or national economy of their host body, are the same companies that we’ve been protesting against for dodging tax here too, while paying massive executive salaries.
2) We actually are all in this together. With the ‘austerity’ politics that hides behind shoddy economics, the working classes of countries in the Global North are going to discover increasingly what a deregulated labour market means for employees. We need to work in solidarity with factory workers and villagers in areas that neoliberalism has already ravaged, to learn how to fight for our own rights, and not let the international élite play us off against each other in a borderless race to the bottom.
3) We say we’re the 99 per cent. If that’s true, then we need to look overseas and into the past and claim solidarity with the ordinary people the world over, who are suffering the legacy of colonialism, usurious debt burdens and the financial and political pressures of the IMF. Identifying with the world’s oppressed majority gives us the strength and conviction of numbers and justice, but it also gives us a responsibility to look past our own immediate situation and connect with the parallel struggles of others.
Occupy camps have seen repression and police brutality, some of it shocking even to those who’ve been involved in similar protests before. This is nothing to what Wukan could face. Knowing that the world is watching might make all the difference in how the authorities behave, and knowing that people around the world are thinking of them might make all the difference to morale within the village. I can’t make it to an Occupy camp myself this weekend, but if I could, here are the suggestions I would bring to a general assembly (they roughly line up with the three points above):
1) Ask businesses that operate in Guangdong, such as Apple, to make a public statement against corruption and land-grabbing, and demanding peaceful treatment of the villagers.
2) Mass lobby the Chinese embassy, and any other relevant political channels.
3) Make a statement of support, encourage other people to follow what’s going on there and see the connection to their own lives.
Let’s show the rest of the 99 per cent that we really mean it. And that pesky one per cent, with their grimy factories in Guangdong and their shiny shops on Oxford Street, yeah, let’s show them that we mean it too.