Hong Kong’s Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) is being forced to disband in the face of a brutal offensive by the Chinese government. The HKCTU is the only body coordinating independent unions in Hong Kong. It has long supported universal suffrage against the rule of Hong Kong by the pro-CCP and tycoon-dominated Legislative Council and the Beijing-appointed Chief Executive.
At its press conference on 13 September, the HKCTU announced that it was recommending disbandment to a general meeting of its affiliates on 3 October.
Vice Chair Leo Tang, one of the three remaining Executive Committee members — the others having already resigned — explained that this was because of threatening messages sent to their leadership.
HKCTU has been under investigation for violations of the 2020 National Security Law (NSL) for the last few weeks.
Tang said that organisations with whom the HKCTU is in contact, such as the ITUC (International Trade Union Confederation) were being considered as “foreign forces”. Under the NSL, “collusion with foreign forces” is deemed “subversion” and liable to incur a life sentence.
Tang would not expand on what threatening messages they had received. But last week, pro-CCP media Tao Kung Pao ran an article in which the Hong Kong Commissioner of Police- appointed by Beijing — was exclusively interviewed.
In the article, unsubstantiated attacks were made on the HKCTU. It claimed that the HKCTU had received “black gold” from the US over 26 years — a dishonest reference to trade union financial support for its training programmes.
That it had published children’s books inciting “violence” — a reference to a picture book, Guardians of the Sheep Village, published by five speech therapists, about sheep needing to defend themselves from wolves. Those trade unionists have since been arrested for sedition.
Tao Kung Pao also accused the HKCTU of organising strikes with political objectives (the crime of crimes from an anti-working-class viewpoint).
Xi Jinping’s desire is for Hong Kong to become just another Chinese city where working class revolt is episodic and generally squashed by overwhelming state repression; where obedience is ensured by nationalist rhetoric and by economic advances for its “middle class” (and some better-off workers, as long as they remain compliant).
That won’t work so easily in Hong Kong, which faces a difficult economic future and where Chinese nationalist propaganda has little positive history.
Despite the repression now being imposed on Hong Kong, the spirit of democratic revolt will not disappear. Pro-Beijing authorities are banning all dissenting working class organisations, rewriting the history curriculum in schools, and destroying the oppositional press. But they cannot abolish the recent memories of millions of Hong Kong people.
If the HKCTU does disband at its general meeting on 3 October, that will make it harder to make links between the everyday oppression of Hong Kong workers in the workplace and political oppression from their Hong Kong, Beijing, and before that, British, rulers.
It will be a major setback. However it will make clearer to the workers in Hong Kong driven underground, or in their hundreds of thousands overseas, that their fight for liberty is an inseparable part of the fight of workers across China.