Hong Kong protest. Photo: Wikimedia Commons Hong Kong protest. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

As protesters continue to take to the streets en masse in Hong Kong, Sean Ledwith argues that the global labour movement must stand in solidarity

The Chinese-run territory of Hong Kong has this year been the scene of the world’s most impressive waves of resistance to authoritarian rule.  Demonstrations, strikes and acts of direct action have taken place on an epic scale and in heroic defiance of the world’s second superpower. Since the end of colonial rule by the British in the 1990s, the territory has experienced limited freedoms such as free speech and an open media as part of its Special Autonomous Region status within China. This compromise between the British and Chinese ruling classes is encapsulated in the famous phrase – ‘one country, two systems’ 

The rise of Xi Jinping as leader in Beijing, however, has witnessed a tightening of centralised power throughout the whole country and threatens the fragile constitutional balance that has prevailed so far in Hong Kong. This was reflected in February by the attempted introduction there of the Extradition Law Amendment Bill (ELAB) that would have allowed citizens to be forcibly sent to the mainland for ‘causing trouble and picking fights’. 

The ELAB was devised by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, an unelected and cravenly pro-Beijing official who personifies the corporate elite that has been in control for decades. Lam’s collusion with her Chinese masters has sparked a gargantuan uprising that has sustained astonishing levels of activism and courage, forcing her to indefinitely suspend the bill. There have been two general strikes since June – the most recent last month saw 350,000 workers out on the streets. Demonstrations every weekend have sometimes seen 2 million people out of a total population of 7.5 million demanding the bill is permanently cancelled. The resistance has been spearheaded by high school and university students but has mushroomed to include elements from all sections of Hong Kong’s working class, including transport workers, lawyers and doctors.

President Xi has so far resisted the temptation to re-enact the Tiananmen Square massacre of thirty years ago, when the last attempt to assert workers’ rights in China was drowned in blood. However, there have been ominous demonstrations of military might in the adjacent city of Shenzhen, indicating Beijing may yet decide it is time for ‘one country, one system’. The Hong Kong working class have displayed inspiring levels of innovation and resourcefulness so far this year. They will need the solidarity of the global labour movement in the even bigger battles to come.

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters