By WILLIAM FOREMAN
Police stand guard, top, as workers gather at the gate of Jianrong Suitcase Factory in Dongguan, Southern city in China, Friday, Dec.19, 2008. Workers at a suitcase factory in southern China are in a standoff with police over a wage dispute, one of a series of protests in southern China, where thousands of companies have gone bust this year. More than 30 police, some with riot helmets and shields, are guarding the front of the factory Friday in the southern city of Dongguan. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
DONGGUAN, China — Police held hundreds of protesting workers inside a suitcase factory in southern China to prevent them from staging a public demonstration about a wage dispute Friday, a worker said from the compound.
The standoff at the Jianrong Suitcase Factory in the southern city of Dongguan is the latest unrest arising from layoffs, poor working conditions and slashed wages in China, where thousands of companies have gone bust in recent months.
On Friday, more than 30 police, some with helmets and riot shields, were guarding the front of the factory.
Workers could be seen pressed up against the metal bars at the dormitory's windows looking out at the police. About 30 workers were on the roof of the building.
One worker leading the protest, Zhang Guohua, said police had been holding about 300 laborers inside the factory and an adjacent five-story dormitory since Friday morning to prevent them from demonstrating publicly.
"One girl tried leaving her dorm but was beaten on the head with a metal baton and was sent to hospital with serious injuries. They just don't want us to protest. If we try to leave, they will beat us even more," Zhang told The Associated Press by telephone from inside the dorm.
The protest started Dec. 15 outside the factory, Zhang said, but after company officials said they would not negotiate, the workers went to the Dongguan city government office to seek help on Thursday, where some of them were beaten by police.
The workers stayed outside the government office overnight, waiting for a resolution but were forced back to the factory compound in the morning by police officers, police dogs and trucks, ordered by the local government, he said.
In the early afternoon, about 100 workers pushed their way through the police and out of the plant compound shouting, "We have no human rights here!" Police videotaped the laborers as they gathered in a small alleyway near the factory gate.
"They have been trying to lock us up in the factory because they don't want us to come out and have the international media cover our protest," said one of the workers who escaped, Dai Houxue.
Zhang said about a dozen people were sent to the hospital with injuries after being hit by police when they were being forced inside.
Officers guarding the factory gate, which was cordoned off with police tape, refused to answer a reporter's questions.
More than 7,000 companies in Guangdong, the province across the border from Hong Kong, closed down or moved elsewhere in the first nine months of the year, the official China Daily newspaper recently reported.
The factory problems put further pressure on a government struggling to maintain social stability in areas where factories were struggling because of rising wage and raw material costs, even before the onset of the global financial crisis.
Zhang said the suitcase company had ceased operations Dec. 15, and some workers had not been paid for 2 1/2 months. Those who had not been paid had been told to expect only 60 percent of their salaries, while those who had been paid would have to return 40 percent of what they received, he said.
Zhang said his monthly salary was 2,000 yuan ($290), while other workers at the factory earned half that amount.
The local government Friday offered to pay 60 percent of their wages for the final month of work, but the workers rejected it.
Calls to the Jianrong Suitcase Factory were not answered Friday. Other details about the company were not known.Associated Press writer Chi-Chi Zhang contributed to this report in Beijing.