Thousands of coal miners stormed the streets of Heilongjiang, a north-eastern town in China, to protest pay cuts and unpaid wages, according to local media.
The protestors rallying over the weekend are employees at the Shuangyashan Mine, which is owned by the Longmay Group.
Many carried banners reading “We want to live. We want to eat.”
“Thousands of people have been protesting,” an anonymous witness told Reuters. “The police have been taking people away.”
Fearing reprisal from local authorities, the source declined to provide his name.
Some protestors told local reporters that their pay had been cut to 800 yuan a month from 1,000 yuan per month. Others argue that Longmay still owes them money. A statement posted Saturday on Heilongjiang’s official website acknowledged some workers were owed money, but made no mention of the protest.
In response to a slowing economy, China is cutting overcapacity at state-run, labor-intensive industries like coal and steel.
Longmay, which has been cutting jobs since 2012, announced last year that it planned to cut its overcrowded workforce of 248,000 by as many as 100,000.
According to Reuters, China is expecting to lay off five-to-six million state workers in the next two to three years in efforts to ease overcapacity and reduce pollution.
Many analysts suspect these changes would usher in China’s most intense labor unrest since the 1990s.
Lu Hao, governor of Heilongjiang, says that plummeting prices in coal coupled with inefficiency at overmanned, state-run enterprises has severely affected the province’s economy.
Longmay miners would be reemployed, according to Lu. Some will be transferred to the farming industry as state farms cultivate more land. The local forest bureau has also increased forest land to create new jobs.