Hong Kong unions and the Occupy Protests
The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions continues to support the demands of the Occupy Protestors, who have been protesting for 6 weeks now against the Chinese Government`s proposals for the election of Chief Executive Officer of the region in 2017. Their member unions have attended the protests and supported them since they were started in late September. The proposals are that the election for CEO will take place in 2017 - but only candidates approved by the Peoples Republic of China will be allowed to be nominated.
After over 6 weeks of occuppations the Police and the CEO have started to clear the protest sites with violence and pepper spray. 120 people were arrested this week after clashes at the smaller but more militant site in the shopping area of Mong Kok on Nathan Road Kowloon. The much larger site at Admiralty - right outside the Legislative Council - has been left alone for the moment. Local media claim that support for the protestors has declined dramatically but thousands turned out at Mong Kok to try and protect the student protestors this week when the site was partially cleared.
At the moment Hong Kong has the status of `Special Administrative Region`within the Peoples Republic. In effect this means it has much autonomy except in matters of Foreign Policy and Defence. It is run by a CEO who is elected by the Legislative Council which in itself consists of 40 elected members and 30 appointed members. This is the arrangement the protestors want to end, they want the whole Council and the CEO to be elected by universal suffrage.
Lee Chuek-yan is the General Secretary of the HKCTU and is also a directly elected member of the Legislative Council (pictured here talking to Nigel Flanagan from UNI at the protest site). Despite the recent violence he continues to support the protestors, blaming a few unaccountable people in an overwhelmingly peaceful protest for damaging the cause.
`They do not represent the protest, but we are at a stage where we have to think about our next step. The support has been dropping because of the lack of progress and the length of time, but the arguments won`t go away. The central government have made no concessions so far, but we must see this occupy phase as part of the overall campaign and not the only means by which we will continue to protest. Strong trade unions are an important part of the opposition. Universal suffrage is a demand of unions all over the world. We are no different.`
Lee Chuek-yan himself is a veteran of pro democracy protests, having been arrested in 1989 at Tiananmen Square. He believes that the young people of Hong Kong who are leading this protest are a new generation, much more angry and committed than his. In the times of Colonial rule under the British there were demands and campaigns for democracy, but not on this scale. Many of the young people are students angry about levels of corruption, the low wages in Hong Kong and in particular the massive shortage of affordable housing. The Hong Kong economy, like London`s, is based on financial services and a low wage, part time sector. It is a challenge to organise these people into powerful trade unions that have a voice not just in the workplace, but in society generally.
UNI is working with HKCTU affiliates to promote organising in HK.