Monday, June 15, 2020

A General Strike for Hong Kong

Last June, Hong Kong protesters took to the streets against a proposed extradition bill and started a year-long protest movement. 

Since June 2019, police have fired more than 16,000 rounds of teargas, over 7,000 rubber bullets and made nearly 9,000 arrests. Police are accused of excessive use of force and conducting arbitrary arrests.

"Because of police brutality, the COVID-19 social gathering ban and the national security law, many people are afraid to speak out. That's why we want to provide a safe channel for our members to express their opinions," said Vic Tse, who is  the chairperson of Hong Kong Public Relations and Communications Union that was formed in December 2019, during the protests and also a representative of a new coalition of labor unions. The coalition, which comprises 24 unions across 20 different industries, recently called for a referendum on whether to go on strike against the proposed national security law.

According to Hong Kong's Labor Department, 1,578 applications for union registration were submitted over the first three months of 2020, compared with 142 across all of 2019 and 13 in 2018. As police are increasingly rejecting applications to hold rallies, those who protest anyway are now at greater risk of being arrested for "illegal assembly." Large-scale, organized union actions such as general strikes thus provide an alternative to the traditional protest movement.

Tse's coalition hopes that the referendum will gather over 60,000 votes. If over 60% of the votes support the motion, they will go ahead with a three-phase general strike, with the first phase lasting for three days in order to first warn Beijing against the consequences of implementing the law in Hong Kong. A general strike in August last year against the now-withdrawn extradition bill sent the city into chaos, leading to the cancellation of more than 200 flights, as well as the disruption of train and bus services. But subsequent strikes haven't created as much momentum, and in many cases, Tse said, have led to serious repercussions for the few people who participated in them. A referendum, she said, would ensure that enough people take part in order to minimize overall risk for participants.
"The paradox of strikes is that the more people participate, the less dangerous it is because the chance of repercussions is lower. They can't just fire everyone," said Tse. 

No comments: