Published in Chinaworker, April, 2009

A massive landslide 140 kilometres southeast of Chongqing buried an iron mine in Tiekuang township in Wulong County, Friday, 5 June. According to China Daily, 63 people were still unnaccounted for, feared dead, as the rescue operation entered its sixth day.

In 2000 the Tonghua Mine, state-owned since before the 1949 revolution, was closed after being declared dangerous by an official government geological inspection team. The mine was abruptly reopened in 2004 under the private management of one Su Xianyang. Local people say the boss, Su, is well connected with the local government.China has the worst mine safety record in the world. Xinhua, the official government news agency, in an online article said that last year there were 400,000 mining accidents in China. The BBC, in a report on the Chongqing landslide, blamed this on poor safety standards, illegal mining practices, and the rush to fill the demand created by China’s rapidly growing economy.Last year a landslide in Shanxi province killed 259 people when a dam holding back waste from an illegal mine collapsed, flooding an entire community. Most media reports do not mention that the ultimate cause of these numerous tragedies stems from the effects of market-driven privatization and the drive to make huge profits on the part of capitalists connected to China’s corrupt party/government ruling elite.

Landslides and rolling rocks are common in the mountainous Chongqing region. At the same time as the Tiekuang iron mine reopened, the headquarters of the town government were relocated to another village several kilometres away, after an incident in which a large boulder rolled down the hillside. 70 government buildings were relocated while at the same time local villagers were reassured that the area wasn’t in danger and were told to stay put.andslide 140 kilometres southeast of Chongqing buried an iron mine in Tiekuang township in Wulong County, Friday, 5 June. According to China Daily, 63 people were still unnaccounted for, feared dead, as the rescue operation entered its sixth day. In 2000 the Tonghua Mine, state-owned since before the 1949 revolution, was closed after being declared dangerous by an official government geological inspection team. The mine was abruptly reopened in 2004 under the private management of one Su Xianyang. Local people say the boss, Su, is well connected with the local government.China has the worst mine safety record in the world. Xinhua, the official government news agency, in an online article said that last year there were 400,000 mining accidents in China. The BBC, in a report on the Chongqing landslide, blamed this on poor safety standards, illegal mining practices, and the rush to fill the demand created by China’s rapidly growing economy. 

People before profit

The South China Morning Post (8 June) highlights the story of a young man named Chen Ming who lost both his parents in the June 5 disaster. In a moving account, Chen says he had repeatedly complained to both the local Communist Party secretary of Chongqing and the village chief but to no avail. He told the newspaper, “A geological accident had rarely been seen in my village until 2004, a year after the restart of the mine exploitation.”  This view, shared by other lcoal residents, contradicts that of Chingqing party boss, Bo Xilai, who has claimed that rainstorms were the sole cause of the landslide.

The SCMP quoted Mr Chen as saying, “I’m not afraid of anything now that I’ve lost both my mum and dad. What I’m going to pursue is justice for all my miserable fellow villages, apart from my parents.” 

Zhao Tiechui, director of the State Administration for Coal Mine Safety, has claimed that an excessive use of explosives triggered the mine collapse. Zhao said that “coal mine owners put the emphasis on accelerating construction instead of work safety”. According to China Daily, Lou Lin, director of the State Administration of Work Safety, said  the disaster was “A major safety accident caused by illegal mining practices”. 

The Tiekuang  Iron Mine, over 50 years old, has a designed production capacity of  300,000 tonnes per year. This has been doubled to 600,000 tonnes under the new owners. The Chongqing mine tragedy sadly is but one of many disasters caused by the unbridled quest for profits in the new capitalist China. This new tragedy underlines the need for independent workers’ trade unions and mass political struggle to stop privatization and place industry and government under the democratic control of the workers, local residents and wider society.