Showing solidarity with Hong Kong’s independent trade unions

UNISON hosts event to mark second anniversary of the forced disbandment of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions

Paul Novak, Catherine West MP, Christopher Mung and Liz Wheatley
Pictured above, left to right: TUC general secretary Paul Novak, Catherine West MP, Christopher Mung and Chair of UNISON’s International Committee Liz Wheatley, who hosted the event at UNISON Centre

UNISON hosted an event in solidarity with Hong Kong’s independent trade union movement earlier this week to mark the second anniversary of the disbandment of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) after extreme pressure from the Chinese government.

The union continues to stand in solidarity with the remaining independent, democratic trade union movement, which remains under huge pressure.

In June 2019, two million people took to the streets of Hong Kong to protest against an extradition law proposed by the Hong Kong government. Following the protests, which lasted months, Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong.

In January 2021, Winnie Yu – a registered nurse and chair of the Hospital Authority Employee Alliance (HAEA) – was arrested for her pro-democracy activities.

Carol Ng

Carol Ng

After a vitriolic government-controlled media campaign that spring, Carol Ng, the former chair of the HKCTU and the British Airways Hong Kong Cabin Crew Union was imprisoned for her pro-democracy activities, together with Lee Cheuk-yan, general secretary of the HKCTU and chair of the Hong Kong Alliance – a pro-democracy organisation known for hosting the annual June Fourth Candle Light Vigil in Hong Kong commemorating the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre. They all remain in prison.

In August 2021, the HKCTU’s largest affiliate, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union, dissolved, citing “huge pressure” from mainland China. And in September, the charges against Mr Cheuk-yan worsened to inciting subversion of state power under the national security law for his role in the Hong Kong Alliance.

Given the risk of arrest, HKCTU chief executive Christopher Mung was forced to flee and has since relocated to the UK. By this time, the decision to disband the HKCTU was already on the cards, and on 3 October 2021, the executive committee took the decision to do so.

Lee Cheuk-yan

Lee Cheuk-yan

UNISON’s history with the HKCTU goes back to the mid to late 2000s. On the decision to organise this week’s event, Nick Crook, the union’s head of international said: “UNISON is proudly internationalist. We will always offer solidarity to those within our international trade union family.

“And now, with 170,000 Hong Kongers arriving in the past few years and many of them in the public sector, we open our arms and offer them a new home within UNISON.”

Speakers at the event included Mr Mung, now the founder of Hong Kong Labour Rights Monitor, TUC general secretary Paul Novak and Labour MP Catherine West MP, who is the shadow minister for Asia and the Pacific.

Mr Mung said: “Democracy is the soul of the trade union movement and only democracy can bring true respect and protection to the working class. Despite facing frustration and crackdowns, we have no regrets in our pursuit of democracy”.

Mr Novak said: “Whatever happens, we’ve got to stick together. The Chinese government can undermine independent trade unions. It can take away the legal rights to organise and represent workers. It can interfere in this country to try to stop us offering solidarity. But it will never, never, break our spirit.”

Catherine West PM said: “In Hong Kong trade union rights have been severely curtailed as the rights promised to the people of Hong Kong have been steadily eroded.

“Solidarity is at the heart of the trade union movement and it is right that we stand together, shoulder to shoulder, with our brothers and sisters in Hong Kong in condemnation of the deteriorating situation they are facing at home, and continue to stand up for the rights and freedoms of those who have fled to the UK.

“Whatever we face, our movement is strong and Labour will do all that we can to continue standing up for Hong Kong.”

The event also saw two exhibitions on display – The History of the Hong Kong Independent Trade Union Movement and Hong Kongers in the UK.