China versus Hong Kong unions

Submitted by AWL on 14 October, 2014 - 10:20 Author: Andrew Casey

Anonymous emails have been sent to Hong Kong media alleging that the only independent union movement in China — the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions — is in the pay of the United States.

The South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Standard have reported that they received emails with attachments showing that the HKCTU had received US$ 2 million from the AFL-CIO , USA national union centre’s key aid agency the Solidarity Center.

“A labour rights group that backs Occupy Central has received grants from a US-based NGO, according to files shared with the media,” the South China Morning Post reports.

Meanwhile the Hong Kong Standard reported the anonymous leak saying they received it from a netizen posting them about 40 zipped files showing e-mails between the HKCTU and both the International Trade Union Confederation and the US Solidarity Center.

There is, of course, a lot of suspicion that malign forces in Mainland China are now flexing their muscles by breaking into the HKCTU computers, stealing data and leaking it to media to harm the union centre who have actively backed the democracy demonstrators, early on calling a strike which was backed by 10,000 Hong Kong workers.

The HKCTU is the only independent, democratic union in all of China, and the only China affiliate of the International Trade Union Confederation.

Key HKCTU affiliates who have organised members to support the democracy demands include  the Hong Kong Social Workers General Union who held a rally of 2000 members,  and the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union who called on members to support the students.

But the HKCTU with about 200,000 members is relatively small,  competing against the bigger, institutionally backed, pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU).

The story-line that the democracy protests in the streets of Hong Kong are paid for, and manipulated, by international forces wanting to intervene into China’s internal matters, is one that has been coming out of Beijing ever since the near three week long protests began.

The demand for universal suffrage voting rights is one long-supported by the HKCTU who argue that it would strengthen the voice of working people in the local legislature. The HKCTU leader, Lee Cheuk-yan, is also the leader of the HK Labour Party in the local legislature.

The state-run China mainland paper Oriental Daily did not hold back — running a page one story claiming the “HKCTU’s  Lee Cheuk-yan received US funds to orchestrate Occupy Central”.

The influential pro-Beijing Sing Tao Daily has also run a page one photo story about the HKCTU receiving HK$20mill over 20 years from the US union movement’s aid agency.

Separate to all of this, the Hong Kong journalist unions have protested several times about the treatment of their members by political leaders and police during the democracy protests.

Meanwhile there is some evidence now that the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU) has been organising its affiliates to get union members out  to protest against the Hong Kong democracy protests.

Until now the big HKFTU has not been heard of in the democracy protests.

Media reports show at least two pro-Beijing HKFTU affiliates organised members to go into the streets to protest against the now near three-week long sit-ins demanding universal suffrage.

Firstly the Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees General Union members marched in the streets demanding an end to the protest because of the effect on their workplaces.

(Of course quite co-incidentally, members the main pro-Beijing construction employer association announced this week they were withdrawing sponsorship of scholarships at a key Hong Kong university because it was a base for student organising of the democracy protests).

Angered by the pro-Beijing union action, another group of construction workers went into the streets on Monday 13 October to the demand universal suffrage. Some of these construction workers have helped to rebuild barricades taken down by police.

However another pro-Beijing HKFTU union affiliate was in the streets, the Motor Transport Workers General Union, angry that members were having trouble getting around town because of the street occupations.

While keeping quite for most of the last few weeks, now it seems the HKFTU has decided to show its colours and come out actively organising their union members against those saying the protest must continue to ensure the campaign to win universal sufferage has a chance.

Divide and conquer of working class people is an old political strategy by authoritarian regimes scared of the power of the oppressed!

The timing of the HKFTU actions came just after an ITUC  delegation led by Sharan Burrow, the ITUC general-secretary, left Beijing on Friday 10 October.

Sharan Burrow and other members of the ITUC delegation met with senior Communist Party people who want the ITUC to have closer relationships with the state-run China national union centre, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU).

The leaders of the HKCTU have been very vocal opponents at global union meetings of any relationship between the ITUC and the massive 134 million member ACFTU.

Statement by HKCTU on the slanders

LabourStart on the struggle for universal suffrage and the different Hong Kong union positions

• Andrew Casey is a long-time Australian trade unionist, journalist and union officer. He one of the original correspondents and editors of the global union news portal LabourStart.

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