Or why Hong Kong’s Occupy Central Movement has Beijing very, very scared
The mass demonstrations of Occupy Central, striking students and workers challenging the Chinese Government’s decision to veto candidates must remind them of Tiananmen Square writes Jane Kelly.
At the time of writing (September 30th) the tear gas and pepper spray attacks by police have stopped, but tension still runs high and there is some evidence that the less radical amongst the Occupy movement are calling for restraint from the protesters. But it may be too late for the huge numbers and variety of people on the streets in the central business and government area of Hong Kong are loathe to leave.
How and why has this happened?
Despite the promise of universal suffrage agreed on the takeover by China in 1997 the mainland government now wants to keep a tight grip on the territory’s political system. This decision has been the spark for these huge protests, but Occupy Central is not the first movement in Hong Kong recently to challenge the powerful alliance between big business and the state. Last year, a strike by dockworkers who had not received a rise in fifteen years, shut down one of the busiest ports in the world for weeks. The workers were widely supported in Hong Kong with public anger heightened because the wealthiest man in Asia, Li Ka-shing, owns their company.
Earlier this year, protesters stormed the Hong Kong legislative council in an attempt to stop funding for a development plan for the north-eastern New Territories. Villagers likely to be displaced by the project banded together with students to protest at another instance of developers getting unparalleled access to government decision makers.
Occupy Central has grown out of this restive political milieu. Activists in Hong Kong understand that they need more political democracy to get more economic democracy. Democratic elections may not be sufficient to address every problem in Hong Kong, but it will certainly be necessary.
Hong Kong is one of the most unequal developed economies in the world
No one but the super-rich has any say in Hong Kong politics. It is a bastion of free markets and free enterprise, one of the most unequal developed economies in the world recently coming top of The Economist’s ‘crony-capitalism index.’
Hong Kong graduates lucky enough to find a professional job, have to work very long hours while trying to scrape together enough money to get somewhere to live in the second-most expensive property market in the world. And Hong Kong still has no universal public pension, creating major uncertainty for older people.
Lower paid workers have fared even worse. Hong Kong had no minimum wage until 2010, when, after much resistance from employers, the standard was set at as low as HKD $28 per hour (approximately £2.20). There are no collective bargaining rights in the city. Foreign workers from the Philippines or Indonesia are frequently subject to brutal working conditions and physical and sexual assault from their employers. Twenty percent of the population in this economic powerhouse now lives below the poverty line.
Of course big business has lined up with the Chinese Government fearing that the protests, ‘will not only affect Hong Kong’s social order and economic prosperity, but also undermine our position as an international business and financial hub.’ (Chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce). Such corporate interests fear that ‘too much democracy would threaten not only the economic elite but even the capitalist system itself.
Many of these problems in Hong Kong – huge inequality, crony capitalism, unaffordable housing costs and an undemocratic political system – are of course the same across the border in mainland China. Hence Beijing’s deep anxiety. If Occupy Central presents a major nuisance, the fear of an Occupy Tiananmen is a horror that has to be stopped in its tracks.
Social media have ensured that this story is spreading round the world, but the Chinese Government’s blocking of informal information and their total control of the media on the mainland, mean that very little is getting to the Chinese masses. How long their control succeeds is questionable. In the meantime there is no sign that the protesters intend to back down in their demand for universal suffrage and now for the resignation of Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying.
The organising group Occupy Central with Love and Peace has called for people to maintain the momentum of the protests into Wednesday’s national holiday, (October 1st).
Statement by Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions
We strongly condemn the police crackdown of people’s protest by Hong Kong government
We call all workers in Hong Kong to participate in a general strike on September 29
Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) strongly condemns the police for their violent attack on unarmed students and people. We strongly condemn the government for suppressing the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly in Hong Kong. HKCTU calls for all workers in Hong Kong to strike tomorrow, in protest of the ruling of the National People’s Congress, as well as the brutal suppression of peaceful protest by the Hong Kong government. Workers and students must unite to force the totalitarian government to hand state power back to the people.
Since the peaceful assembly outside the Government Headquarters on September 26th, thousands of people join and support the assembly. The ever growing number of people maintained peace and order. Yet, the police attacked the protestors heavily with pepper spray, baton and riot squads armed with shields and helmets, while people who only had towels and umbrellas to protect themselves. In face of several rounds of suppression, protestors only raised their hands up without fighting back. In the evening of September 28th, the police furthered their attack with several rounds of tear gas. Many peaceful protestors were injured.
Workers must stand up against the unjust government and violent suppression. Workers must stand up, as the totalitarian government has to back down when all workers protest in solidarity. To defend democracy and justice, we cannot let the students fight the suppression alone.
HKCTU hereby announces and calls all workers to participate in a general strike tomorrow.
1) Police must release the arrested protestors immediately. They must guarantee the basic human rights of the arrested protestors during retention.
2) The government and police must stop suppressing the peaceful assembly and apologize to the people.
3) National People’s Congress must withdraw the ‘fake universal suffrage’. The Hong Kong government must restart the consultation of political reform. Workers have been demanding a fair election system to rectify the longstanding problem of the business-leaning government. However, the ‘fake universal suffrage’ framework proposed by NPC is merely ‘old wine in a new bottle’.
4) Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying must step down to bear the responsibility of violent suppression of protest.
Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions
September 28th, 2014.