Union syndicale Solidaires
June 5, 2022
PRECISELY THIRTY-THREE YEARS ago, a gust of hope drove down mainland China. It had been initiated by young students, fighting for the establishment of a series of democratic rights. A lot of workers had expressed their solidarity with this movement. Immediately, they had sown the seeds of independent unions, in Beijing as well as in a couple of dozens of cities. This fact is important: historically, the existence of unions has played a crucial role in gaining and defending democratic rights.
In the meantime, the Tian’anmen square “movement” was a powerful catalyst for the fight for democratic rights in Hong Kong, in particular for universal suffrage. Since the 19th century, the British colonial power had indeed always refused to recognise the people’s right to freely elect the executive and legislative institutions of Hong Kong.
In Hong Kong as in mainland China, many thought that a new era was beginning in this part of the world. However, this thought did not take into account the obstinacy of the Communist Party leadership to conserve its absolute power, “whatever it takes.”
Haunted by the ghost of the 1980 polish national strike, and the collapse of the East European regimes, the Chinese politburo refused to compromise. The night of 3-4 June 1989, tanks stormed the Tian’anmen and its vicinity, and fired at the crowd. Numerous protesters were arrested. The same type of repression also took place in other provinces.
The 1989 massacres are a watershed in Chinese history. The bloody defeat of the democratic and social movement created the conditions favoring a “great replacement” of a large part of the Mao-era working class by migrants from the Chinese countryside, as well as an acceleration of capitalist transition.
To date, this fundamental doctrine of the Communist Party has remained unchanged, despite a few periods of relative tolerance. With Xi Jinping’s rise to power, the time of considerable tightening has come without a doubt.
In Hong Kong, the 1989 massacres had caused considerable emotion, which stimulated the rise of the pro-democracy movement. One of the masterpieces was the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), which was officially founded in July 1990.
It was not a coincidence that Lee Cheuk-yan, general secretary of HKCTU, was also one of the main spokespersons of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, which organised every year large protests and assemblies for the commemoration of 4 June.
Since 2020, these events have been banned. Facing repression, the Alliance decided to dissolve. For about one year and a half, alongside dozens of dozens of activists, Lee Cheuk-yan has found himself behind bars, and no one knows when exactly he will be released. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong associations which support the fight for social justice and democracy in mainland China have been repressed or silenced.
Since 2020, we have witnessed a progressive absorption of Hong Kong by the Beijing regime. Little by little, the mainland rulebook has been applied:
– general restriction of freedom,
– increase in censorship, and in precautionary self-censorship,
– arbitrary arrests and prison sentences,
– continuous legal and prison threats by the justice, including retroactive prosecution,
– dissolution of independent organisations of authority (associations, parties, unions, media…).
Obviously, there has not been any massacre since 2020, unlike 1989 in Beijing, but if the current political climate continues, we might consider it as a Tian’anmen with Hong Kong characteristics.
Paris, 3 June 2022