08 May 2013

Dockworker strike ends; protests with colonial flags

David Lindsay writes:
The striking dockers and other demonstrators in Hong Kong, increasingly one of the most interesting places in the world politically, are waving flags from the Colonial period "as an act of provocation".

Provocation of whom? Hong Kong was never British territory, being only ever under lease. Therefore, neither independence, nor the status of a British Overseas Territory in perpetuity (like all of those which still remain), was ever going to be an option there.

To our shame, we put in place far too little in the way of representative democracy, ordered liberty, workers' right or social welfare provisions in order to make the place a beacon for their eventual extension to the whole of China. Clearly, though, we put in place enough to light the spark.

If the waving of the old flags means anything, then it means that. And the eventual extension of representative democracy, ordered liberty, workers' right and social welfare provisions to the whole of China will be more than a fair exchange for the British acquisition of a love of Cantonese food.

Mr Lindsay, as ever, is bang-on about this, in my humble opinion: if the strikers were waving British flags it is not out of nostalgia or a desire for a reinstitution of British colonial government, but rather as a reminder of what Britain had promised them but not delivered, especially in the way of worker rights and social welfare. After all, why else would Coeng Mou, the leader of the Social-Democratic League (Se-Wui Man-Jyu Lin-Sin, 社會民主連線) political party, throw plastic faeces at CY Leung for criticising the protesters whilst wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of Ernesto Guevara (of whom, whatever else might be said of either of them, it can hardly be claimed that they pine for the British Empire)?

The strike has ended; the results were decidedly mixed, though there is reason for hope in the future. The redoubtable Ellen David Friedman has sent to the riseup mailing list this translation of a letter from the HKCTU:
On 6 May, UHKD received a written confirmation jointly signed by the four contractors of HIT, Everbest, Comcheung, Lem Wing and Pui Kee via the Labour Department. The four companies confirmed the new salary plan of 9.8% increase in the basic wage for all their employees at different works in the Kwai Chung Contrainer Terminals, effective for one year from 1 May 2013. In the workers’ meeting called by UHKD in the evening, members considered the written assurance by the four contractors with the Labour Department a step forward compared to the verbal, unilateral announcement these companies made on 3 May. Although the strike has not secured a collective bargaining agreement with the employers, the 40-day industrial action has broken the “tradition” of unilateralism and succeeded in forcing the contractors to seal a written confirmation about the pay and working conditions. UHKD believes that this is the first step towards building a mechanism of communication and negotiation between the employers and the union representing a large section of the contractual workers in the Hong Kong terminals.

The four contractors’ written confirmation also gives details committing the employers to “improve the occupational safety and health protection with the terminal companies”, as well as providing the crane operators the right “to stop the machine to take lunch freely”, and “leave their workplace for toilet”. Members of UHKD decide that these concrete commitments are important basis for the union to continue the engagement with the contractors and HIT in good faith in the future.

While calling an end to the strike, the union is now working to assist the re-employment of its members, particularly the hundred crane operators employed by Global Stevedoring which announced its closure on 18 April. The union is pressing the Labour Department to negotiate with all the contractors for the soonest possible re-employment of these members.

UHKD will see to the end that the contractors abide by their promise of non-retaliation; and that none of its members will be penalized in the future for having taken part in the strike. The union will follow up to demand the contractors and HIT for a mechanism to schedule the rest and lunch breaks, enforce the safety and health provisions, review the salary regularly and eventually establish a collective bargaining mechanism that includes the contractual workers in the terminals.

The passionate support and generous donations of the Hong Kong community, the international trade unions and organizations have helped us to sustain the strike for forty days. On behalf of our members, UHKD is thankful to all of you who have been giving us unwavering support. Together with you, we have demonstrated again the importance of workers’ unity in fighting not only for reasonable pay, but also our dignity and our future.

It is the time for Hong Kong SAR government to re-table the legislation on collective bargaining, scrapped by the government in 1997, in obligations under the ILO Convention No98. The working people in Hong Kong must have an internationally recognized mechanism on collective bargaining to ensure the right to fair negotiation of their working conditions and protection of the unions they belong to.


蔡泳詩 Wing Sze, Choi 統籌幹事 Project Coordinator 香港職工會聯盟 Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions

Godspeed to the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions in keeping up the struggle and pressing for more protections for the working people of Hong Kong, who have a really tough break at the moment.


  1. Good news indeed. Who would have thought that Hong Kong, that place of sheer entrepreneurial capitalism, have a successful strike? The only other thing that would surprise me more is a similar thing in Singapore.

    The use of British flags (Union Jacks) in their protest was indeed provocative, though in my opinion I would rather see them as a reminder of those British freedoms that haven't been spread to HK, it seems, and is itself in danger in its own land of origin.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Idrian! I was also surprised at even the degree of success the strike met with, even though they didn't meet all of their goals. The entire British flag thing and the way they are being used just makes the entire situation of Hong Kong seem so surreal to me, but a lot about their politics feels that way...