("A city of life" is the slogan of the HK Tourist Authority, but "a city of struggle" has become a regular by-line in the South China Morning Post). This article we have received from a group of Marxists in Hong Kong describes the political, economical and social situation in the city. There have been a number of strikes and demonstrations by different groups of workers in the last period, particularly the immigrant workers. The article also explains the strategy of the Marxists in their intervention.
* The official slogan of the Hong Kong Tourism Authority
** South China Morning Post (Hong Kong's largest circulation English newspaper) regular bye-line
The bosses' propaganda is that there is no big union organisation in our area, there are no socialists and that the activists are just lunatics. These are the same lies as the British justification for their annexation of Hong Kong that it was 'a barren rock'.
Over last three years Hong Kong has had an average per day of 9 demonstrations ranging from social to economic and political issues. From youth, small businessmen, trades unionist to pensioners, pilots and activists. Whilst the numbers on the demos are generally small, as a direct result of the failure of the so called 'left parties' of Hong Kong, they do demonstrate the underlying level of militancy here since our return to China in 1997.
The failure of the Democratic Party (HK's largest political party), Frontier and Citizen to offer an alternative to the increasing stresses, unemployment and impoverishment of the people of Hong Kong speaks volumes. Whilst the sheer number of demonstrations has earned us the moniker of "City of Protest" the lack of purposeful direction of the political lefts has left these groups in limbo with no alternative but to continue protesting.
Generally peaceful with a little shoving and pushing against police lines some demonstrations in the summer of 2000 - by unemployed workers in neighbouring Macao (200 arrests and a riot in the tiny former Portuguese colony) - by illegal immigrants such as the 'Immigration Tower Fire' (which resulted in 1 dead and several seriously injured and the protests by indigenous villagers on tiny Cheung Chau Island which left a number of policemen in hospital) - have taken on a serious character. This violence has only arisen because of the frustration at the lack of alternatives posed by the leadership of these movements.
Labour, community and youth organizations encompass 2.3 million people in Hong Kong out of a population approaching 7 million with a similar proportion for Macao, (450,000 population). Membership of organised labour in the Hong Kong Federation of Trades Unions, Confederation of Trades Unions and independent unions alone stands at 620,000. If professional, student, migrant workers associations (250,000) and civil service associations are included this places the figure well over the 1.5 million mark. The indigenous peoples organization 'Heung Yee Kuk' of the New Territories - which boasts a small independent left wing - commands 820,000.
Overall all these workers suffer a crisis of leadership, a rudderless, compliant and pro-capitalist leadership that must be replaced.
The conclusions are fast being drawn by the Marxist current of Hong Kong (…) is that for our rights to be defended we need an independent voice based on a united front of all groups and activists for the formation of an independent party of Labour. But also to do this that we must break from the middle class apologists such as the Democratic Party (…), Frontier, Citizens Party, to build a workers' party based on organized labour, youth and the activists. Such a party if based on socialist ideas would achieve mass support. If matters develop then of course there will be no need to create a social democratic party of the modern sense but of the old sense!
In the last LEGCO (our regional parliament) elections 2000, 'April 5th Action', a group of former Trotskyists formerly with the USFI almost succeed in gaining a seat on an independent ticket but with the support of some lefts in the Democrat camp drawn by socialist ideas. But the lack of any clear organizational and political program resulted in the dissipation of this movement that can only at this time of militancy garner 15 or so supporters.
A history of Marxism - the turn to action
Through patient explanation the influence of the Marxists has evolved with a small group of sympathisers of the WIL to complement the historic work of the Pioneer Group and October Review (USFI) who's numbers are in the 100 plus region. We are all the political grandchildren of the founder of the CPC, Chen Du-xiu, China's true founding father.
Hong Kong and Macao has a proud history of Communism through the seamen's strikes of 1911, support for and the basing of the founders of the CPC, exiled Communists and of expelled Trotskyists and Chinese Left Opposition and members of parties such as the Workers' Parties. The influence of the Communists Party of China has always been extensive but whilst the movements of workers and students such as in 1967 have taken on a revolutionary character the CPC has always played a fettering role on their development.
Even in the absence of any real support for the party (CPC) amongst the workers and youth in Hong Kong, events on the mainland still have a massive effect here - to further alienate the workers and students and to raise in the minds of our people about why. Why can a party that was founded by the Trotskyists such as Chen Du-xiu be so anti-working class? The left parties here have similarly played a role in fettering the development of revolutionary struggles. These so-called champions of democracy have by their very actions in advocating capitalist democracy - the democracy of war, famine, disease and death - long diverted the organic struggle from below and allowed the continued leadership and consolidation of power of the Stalinist leadership of the CPC over this area.
The character of these so called left parties is central to any analysis of tactics by Marxists as to whether to participate in united fronts or enter such so called social democratic parties; so is the fact that they cannot be termed as 'traditional parties of the working class'. The nearest we have here to such traditional parties are the pro Beijing parties (small and unhealthy but still oriented to), the CPC closets such as our current leader Tung Chee Wah and his group (he is a billionaire shipping magnet but a party member!) and the Trotskyists and former Trotskyists! Such is the partially engineered morass of politics in Hong Kong.
Therefore the ideas of diverting the resources of the Militant Left into organizations that fossilised at birth is a nonsense. Whilst we will remain friendly to the left that develop and of course assist in campaigns we will retain an independent class position and be critical by advocating the formation of a workers' party. In the current climate of militancy we are better to orientate towards our programme as independent Marxists but in a united front to build an independent party of labour. To unite organised labour and draw the thousands of factions of struggle into one collective organization where the Marxists maintain an independent platform.
We do caution that such a party must be based on socialist principles and ideas and must also genuinely reflect the ideas of the parties and groups that affiliate but fundamentally it must be based on organized labour. We also demand accountability of all officers of the party and that any officer elected receives no more than the average wage of a skilled worker. We must also be prepared to lead not a phantom party but a genuine party of labour with mass support. Such a party must be based on organized labour.
Here we believe, this is the correct course. Our work of in turn is not just orientated to this but to the development of a mass revolutionary Marxist Tendency for Hong Kong, Macao, Taipei and Greater China.
We have begun to invite all activists and socialists in Hong Kong and Macao to discuss with us the formation of such a party. (…)
In the mean time we have orientated our propaganda towards the trades unions as genuine traditional organizations of the working class, the Heung Yee Kuk - with some success - and the migrant workers, activists, students and intellectuals.
At the precipice
We have no illusions and with the background of 0% growth of our economy for 2001 (from 4.5% for 2000) and an absolute recession in 2002 and of the militant struggle we are confident that we will make inroads and develop the resources and support for genuine Marxism.
Our economic region has suffered the bubble collapse talked of in your material, ours 1995 Property and Construction which up untill then accounted for some 50% of GDP - 1998 Currency and Stock Market collapse. This forced the new government of direct rule of Beijing to nationalize the commanding heights of our stock market, some HK$$120 billion - 2000 the Internet bubble and stock market crash. With the further prospect of Stock Market collapse and a collapse of the US$ we are bracing for meltdown.
Our region alone holds some 60% of the US$ foreign reserves! A major economic headache. If the region sells we will loose heavily on the resultant lower dollar (only a small fall in the value of the US$ would result in huge losses for our economies) and any further bail outs from the USA, World Bank etc would be jepordised. Hong Kong this year is to post a HK$60 billion government deficit if things hold as they are and do not worsen. With the US$, if we hold our reserves we will be like the captain of the Titanic - our economies will go down with the greenback. For Hong Kong this is compounded in that we are pegged to the greenback. We face a double blow with the loss of the value of our reserves and the loss of the value of our currency.
At a time of rising employment, social disorder, suicide, crime, poverty and disease nothing is offered by any section of the political left or by the capitalist advisers to Beijing for a way to avoid this impending catastrophe. We are not at an impasse any longer we are on the precipice of disaster. Unemployment is already set to rise to a figure of 10% plus in 2002 from 5% at present, our suicide rate is now the highest in the world! So called 'economic murder/suicide' directly attributed to 90% of that figure. An economic collapse that is talked of daily in our more serious newspapers and media would possibly bring about a collapse of our society.
Our society is increasingly being determined by the wishes of warlords that are making their first major comeback since the 20's and bringing with them the social diseases of capitalist culture. In one month alone in late 2000, 10 gang rapes were reported in the media as a consequence of a flood of the drug MDMA (Exstacy) and Metamphetamine (ICE). The unofficial figures of local NGO's put this at over 30 a month for that whole period and continuing at the rate of 10 per month! This for what is a small city!
Personal bankruptcy is now at an all time high with the banks and financial institutions, religious organizations who control hospitals and schools using gangsters to recoup bad debts! Every day a family is burnt out of their home, family members hospitalized (to government ones) or driven to despair and the taking of their own and their entire family's lives. The horrors of this system continue unabated.
The leadership moves from below
Organised labour has however demonstrated massive hope. In the recent "ISS strike' of cleaners of our underground rail network Hong Kong people were confronted with mass pickets, sit ins and a strike, a strike that was organized professionally with an appeal to the general public receiving mass support. This was quickly settled but left an indelible mark on the advanced workers. They were just so well organized. This is just part of a number of disputes that are growing and breaking through the almost mandatory provisions of labour arbitration and severe anti assembly/strike laws. For a so called 'western style democracy with Chinese characteristics', labour currently enjoys more rights on the mainland!
The migrant workers of Hong Kong, who have developed an independent group of unions and achieved almost 100% membership have commenced militant action to prevent any further pay cuts. Many of these workers earn less than HK$2,000.00 per month for up to 113 hours per week! Their numbers total some 250,000! In a series of demonstrations the cause and demands of the movement have found an increasing echo with the demonstration called two weeks ago attended by some 2,000 marchers. The echo is being received by the Trades Unionists, the leaders for their own purposes to abate the movement and the rank and file for their solid determination despite suffering the worst conditions and pay of all workers in Hong Kong save the army of elderly who work in the recycling industries.
The bulk of the migrant workers are women employed in the domestic industry. After completing the registration, paying up to 6 months salary equivalent to the legal human traffickers they face many difficulties and dangers. Some 160,000 are from the Philippines, some 60,000 from Indonesia, most from the rural areas with their families relying on the remittance home which averages 50% of the monthly wage of the migrant worker.
Suffering the indignity of being forced to break with tradition many women's lives are destroyed, for Moslem women it can be a double blow. Many are raped or sexually and physically assaulted and even tortured. With the increasing desperation of many middle class families they are subject to physical and mental abuse, overwork, over responsibility, underpay from the poverty level figures existing and often just dumped like new born puppies onto the streets to face capture by organized crime or deportation like a criminal. This by the very families that once welcomed them into their households and families. Capital treats it's factories and livestock better than people.
Faced with a proposed pay-cut and increased regulation, these workers have demonstrated the greatest of bravery. For them speaking out normally means the sack and the ignominy of deportation. Many are kept like indentured servants but break away to join the demonstrations. From a few they are now thousands and such is the significance of their movement that for the first time sympathetic employers are joining the movement! The demonstrations garner support not just from these unlikely sources but our Police who understand their bravery. These demonstrations are also very colourful and lively with culture aswell as ideas being put to the fore.
· No more pay cuts! - for a minimum wage of HK$5,500.00 per month
· Full trades union and employment rights
· End discrimination on pay - Equal pay for equal work.
· No to the removal of the 'live-out' system
· Right to work outside the contract and in other industries
· For the right to apply for work from Hong Kong
· Scrap all anti-migrant proposals and policies and repeated scapegoating of migrant workers
· No to the racist immigration two week rule
· No to the proposed quota legislation
· No tax levies on the contract
· Clamp down on abuses and contract violations
· Nationalise the employment agencies - place control of the industry under the department of labour and the trades unions
· Invest in quality childcare, housing and domestic facilities for all
· End all racist immigration and asylum controls
· Full rights and amnesty to all migrant workers and their families
· Link our movement to the struggles of national international workers
· Campaign for a day of mass labour demonstrations for January 2002
· Build a party of labour
S11 imperialism and fundamentalism
The singular effect of the S11 terrorist attacks was to delay this and other industrial movements. Until now! Prior to the attack the Pilot's Union of Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong's carrier) had been engaged in a prolonged dispute over rostering, safety and conditions by working to contract! In light of the then changed mood in the US and Europe and with the collapse of the industry even with the bailouts, the leadership of the union resumed negotiation and normal working (outside of contract and international regulation and as per the wishes of the management).
The pilot's strike is now back on the cards with an even bigger opportunity to defend the industry. Resolved with determination and anger at the 50 or so sacked strikers still not back at work (to contract) and seeing an opportunity for victory as the management crumbles under a history of mismanagement and abuse and bosses in Hong Kong back off from industrial confrontation and with sterling examples of trades unionism arising from their own migrant workers employed as drivers and domestic helpers and re-invigorated with the mood of militancy generally in Hong Kong, these middle class unionists and militants are set to be a pain to the bosses here and a demonstration to the workers.
Even these middle class professionals on comparatively astronomic incomes (HK$250,000.00 per month) learn from the workers of Hong Kong and internationally.
It is clear that the destructive aspects of individual terror have had little effect here, just as you have correctly analysed it has just delayed and compounded all the contradictions of the capitalist and Stalinist systems. Such are these contradictions that they are back to the fore in a relatively short period. But we know to be guarded against any further reactionary fundamentalist moves that threaten our movement.
China has its own characteristics as will our revolution, for China it is still the political revolution. The Chinese people themselves have suffered a long history of suffering at the hands of imperialism. The American's garnered little sympathy here with the general feeling one of great sadness at the loss of life, anger at the stupidity of the attack but with an understanding of why. We remember the atrocities of US imperialism throughout this region but we have the history of our revolution, albeit a distorted one that is being undone. The weakness of the Beijing leadership in their attempt to turn to capitalism and justify their distortion of the revolution is shown in their playing of the nationalist card. We all remember Belgrade and the bombing of the embassy and the downing of our fighter jet by a US spying mission. Less of us remember Vietnam, Korea, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, Timor, Palestine, Lebanon and the millions dead at the hand of US foreign intervention.
Of consequence is however the strengthening of the state. Already China has ratified the US dictated terms for new anti terrorist legislation. Whilst our current public assembly laws here are challenged regularly to great effect rendering them almost useless, the new proposed anti terrorist legislation with wide and sweeping powers handed to the state is at present opposed solely by Human Rights organizations, Trades Unions on the left and the Marxist current. The so called lefts of the Democrats et all are silent and will no doubt vote for this legislation here which we all understand is anti union and anti working class legislation directed at the threat from within and not from without. Such is their cowardice and false leadership.
The protests against any new legislation will quickly arise as two giant forces move into confrontation, our local state and our local labour movement. Already with the backbone of internationalism in the migrant workers' unions this issue has been raised. From economic demands to political ones, the conclusions are being drawn. As part of this is the recognition of the need in turn to internationalise our solidarity and links in the region is developing apace with the cause of the magnificent comrades of the PTUDC and of the Malay activists such as Tian Chua arrested under their Internal Secrecy Act (ISA) and the longshoremen and firemen of America being raised in the movement.
Any further reaction will be met by an equal and opposite reaction until the quantity and thereto quality of our movement or of world conditions spurs our struggle to victory or to dissipation and temporary defeat. The next period holds such possibilities. The subjective factor is as ever crucial. The Marxists of Hong Kong salute the bravery and strength of the comrades of the PTUDC, WIL and of Socialist Appeal for their resolute stance in maintaining the necessary clarity of ideas and perspectives and organization.
We are on the doorstep of Greater China, whose 1949 revolution still holds hope for the vast majority of workers and farmers and dispossessed of China. Our work here is not so much for Hong Kong and Macao but for China and Taipei. Our strategy for China is also different. We look forward to developing our perspectives and strategy with you and to begin to play a role in the world revolutionary process.
Events will unfold with sharp contradictions and the recognition of the possibilities that are opening up for the development of genuine Marxism in China has sent our morale - to paraphrase the magnificent fighters of the PTUDC - as high as the Hong Kong Island Peak!