BEIJING, Nov. 7 (Xinhua) -- Ren Xiaoyuan left his village for Beijing 16 years ago and has been working as a janitor ever since. His garbage truck passes by the Great Hall of the People nearly every day.
But he never expected to enter the building as a deputy to China's most important political meeting in five years, the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), which opens on Thursday.
"It seems like it's not something that could even happen to me. It's just surreal. I had a similar feeling when I first arrived in Beijing," said Ren.
Ren is one of 26 migrant worker deputies to the CPC congress. They only account for 1.14 percent of all deputies but represent the country's 250 million migrant workers. The migrant workers will also be making their first appearance as a group at the meeting, as previous congresses featured only several migrant worker deputies.
As deputies, each of the 26 migrant workers will hold an equal vote with other deputies in electing a new CPC Central Committee and other matters.
"Being a migrant worker deputy means being recognized for our contributions to the country," Ren said.
Ren admitted that the pressure of the meeting is significantly greater than the problems he usually deals with in his line of work. He said he is determined to grasp the principles of a political report that President Hu Jintao, who is also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, will deliver on Thursday.
In 2008, three migrant workers were elected to the National People's Congress, China's top legislature. Zhu Lijia, a professor with the National Academy of Administration, said their election demonstrated a trend in political development, referring to the increasing representation of grass-roots people in politics.
Despite being represented within both the CPC and the state, securing a decent life remains a struggle for many migrant workers.
Migrant workers are a group that has emerged along with China's economic rise since market reforms took place over 30 years ago. As China urbanized and industrialized, huge labor demand and opportunities in cities drew millions of farmers to leave their homes, creating a massive labor force that turned China into the world's factory.
Although they get higher pay in the cities, the migrants' living conditions stand in stark contrast to most urban dwellers. According to a report issued by the National Population and Family Planning Commission this year, the majority of migrant workers live in temporary sheds, receive low pay, work long hours, have no insurance of any kind and are unable to enroll their children in public schools.
Finding it hard to establish a footing in cities, they migrate between their home villages and the cities, bringing a travel rush around the time of the annual Chinese New Year holiday, during which a tidal wave of millions of migrant workers attempt to return home by train.
Sixteen years of working in Beijing and being a CPC congress deputy have not brought Ren a Beijing-based "hukou," or residence registration that brings benefits like education and health care. He earns less than 2,000 yuan (158 U.S. dollars) a month.
"Every migrant worker wants to lead an urban life. Our toil is all for our family. This is particularly true for the new generation of migrant workers. However, a city life is not something we can just have if we want. It depends on many things," said Ren.
In July, President Hu told a meeting of ministerial and provincial officials that the CPC must enhance its flesh-and-blood ties with the people, consolidate its power base and solve the most immediate problems concerning people's interests.
To consolidate its power base, Dai Yanjun, a professor of the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, said the CPC must involve more members of industrial workers in major policymaking so that it can improve their standing and expand their influence.
"There are thousands of migrant worker brothers and sisters out there. At the congress, I will make their voices heard and demands known," said Hong Gang, a deputy who works as a welder in Shanghai.
Kang Houming, a migrant worker deputy from southwest China's city of Chongqing, said he hopes to see the government step up efforts to provide equal access to education and health care for migrant workers.
Kang, who works for a road construction company, is one of three migrant workers elected to China's top legislature in 2008 and has been advocating equal education and health care access since.
The voices of Kang and other advocates have been heard by the government. It has rolled out a series of measures to improve conditions for migrant workers, helping them retrieve withheld wages and establishing a minimum wage mechanism.