Editor’s Note: This is the third in our series of translations of short letters and statements from members of HKCTU that were posted on their Facebook page upon the news of their disbandment on September 17, 2021 due to increasing repression and harassment from pro-Beijing media and the Hong Kong government. We share these translations here to preserve the history of the city’s progressive and independent unionism and to honor HKCTU’s decades of organizing and struggle to better the lives of Hong Kong workers.
After resigning from the district council office, I turned to work at the Confederation of Trade Unions on September 1. In half a month, I was informed that the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Union’s (HKCTU) Standing Committee had proposed a motion to dissolve. (I must emphasize here that as long as we have not held a general meeting and passed a motion, we cannot say that we are officially dissolved.)
Before the news came out, some colleagues and workers would ask why I had joined the HKCTU at this time. In my heart, I could not admit defeat.
Whether I was working at the district council office or with the union, it was merely a form of title to me. What I wanted was to be able to organize. I was frustrated upon hearing more news of the disqualification of district councillors across Hong Kong, which seemed to signify an end to community work and all the relationships that had been built with community members over the years. I couldn’t accept that the National Security Law went beyond the Shenzhen River and into Hong Kong, which shut down diverse voices of public discussion and ended our right to protest on the streets. Ultimately, all we wanted was to find a space where we could comfortably express ourselves.
When I was still a student in 2017, my university and its external contractors were trying to evade severance payments to workers. The university believed in outsourcing labor and exploiting contracted workers. This was when my friends and I approached our acquaintances at HKCTU to discuss how to organize severance actions, which marked the beginning of my involvement in labor organizing.
Later on, when employees in a shop run by the pro-CCP Fulum Group were put on no-pay leave, not given notice to start work, and not given severance pay, we approached our friends from HKCTU to pursue the matter together. With the support of HKCTU, we assisted the workers who did not know how to express themselves as HKCTU representatives by answering the questions of the adjudicator at the Labor Tribunal, and eventually we were able to get back the full amount owed to them.
In addition to the cooperative relationship I had with it in the past, I felt that HKCTU shared my beliefs. More importantly, HKCTU was tenacious even in the face of the National Security Law—on May 1, June 4, July 1 and July 21, when almost all organizations spoke up less, the CTU was the only one bold enough to hang its flag on the Mong Kok Bridge, bold enough to speak out loudly. They continued to say what they believed in.
In the labor movement, it is often said that “unity is strength,” which seems so naive to say, but it is true. It’s not that if you unite, you will definitely recover, but that we all need friends. We are all weak, and we are afraid when we are alone, but if you have just one more person with you, then the fear will be considerably diminished.
Before 2019, I was lonely because there were very few people who were involved in political organizing, and when I talked to my friends about current affairs, I appeared different. But after 2019, I’ve felt even lonelier because there is no way for people who organize politically to be seen, nor can they see others—unless they’re in prison.
The movement often talks about what is “being seen.” What can be seen are those marginalized issues, people and things that normally cannot be seen in everyday life. You may ask, what is the point of “being seen?” The fact is that the movement over the years has not brought about any real results, right? But I think the point of “being seen” is not to make anything happen, but to make people less lonely and to let them know that their efforts are not foolish and in vain.
So back to my main point—joining HKCTU is not about wanting to join , but about wanting to continue to participate in and expand the labor and social movement, so as to build something for civil society.
If HKCTU really has to disband, would it be catastrophic? Workers would have no one to turn to, societal fear would expand, and marginalized people would be even less visible…
To say “no” would be a lie, and to say that there are impacts would be true, but it would certainly not be the end.
What matters isn’t that HKCTU gets disbanded (I hope my colleagues don’t beat the shit out of me for saying this), what matters is that civil society will not disband. Organizers and social activists have been working hard during the social downturn. We are trying to open up a front line across different domains. If we fall down this time, can we all step up?
A HKCTU Sanitation Workers Union Organizer Written on the 30th day of employment