Tsang’s so-called "reforms" represented nothing more than a few cosmetic changes to the present undemocratic system. The LegCo (Legislative Council) would remain a powerless rubber stamp body under the sway of a Chief Executive handpicked by an election committee of Hong Kong’s tycoons, notables and individuals approved by the unelected Beijing government. Mass pressure, on the streets in December, insured that none of the pan-democratic legislators (the broad group of elected legislators who advocate a move to universal suffrage) could break ranks and support his ’reforms’ as Tsang had hoped.
This struggle is not just about democratic rights in Hong Kong. It is part of a wider struggle for basic democratic rights on the mainland, to break the grip of an authoritarian regime which suppresses trade union rights and enforces sweatshop wages in the interests of Chinese, Hong Kong and foreign capitalists. The Beijing government wants to delay any real move towards democratic rights in Hong Kong for as long as possible, fearing the effect this will have in encouraging workers and peasants on the mainland to struggle. China is experiencing 120 to 250 urban protests everyday, and 90 to 160 rural protests, according to The Economist. This, in the absence of any independent workers’ or peasants’ organisations and despite constant police repression - as we saw in Shanwei, in Guangdong province, where police shot dead at least three demonstrators in December.
But in blocking the way to free elections in 2007-08, which even some in the pro-democracy camp seem now to have accepted, the Beijing government has the support of the capitalists and big global corporations. Top local capitalists like Stanley Ho took out expensive advertisements to warn people against demonstrating for their rights. Gordon Wu, chairman of Hopewell Holdings, slammed the 4 December march as "mob politics".
This shows the anti-democratic nature of the tycoons who run Hong Kong with the help of the so-called ’communist’ party in China. Despite their claim that the capitalist ’free market’ means democracy, the rich and powerful need the anti-working class policies and methods of the Beijing regime. Foreign companies operating in China have an even worse record against trade unions - a fundamental democratic right - than their local counterparts. In fact, everywhere where ordinary people today enjoy basic rights like the right to vote, freedom of assembly, the right to join a union and to strike, these rights were won by mass pressure - on the streets. This has usually met fierce resistance from the rich and powerful. Most of Europe did not enjoy universal suffrage until after the Russian Revolution of 1917, which placed other governments under enormous pressure to meet demands for social justice. Britain - "the mother of parliaments" - ruled Hong Kong for 155 years without conceding parliamentary rule.
Lessons from elsewhere
The rightward leaning leaders of the pan-democratic camp have clearly not learnt the lessons of all this. They see their role as persuading Beijing’s authoritarians and Hong Kong’s tycoons with soothing arguments about how little will actually change on the basis of universal suffrage. But ordinary workers and youth in Hong Kong have different expectations. The struggle for an elected government, and against today’s rule by the privileged few, is seen as a way to gain more control over their own lives, to hit back against privatisation, corporate downsizing and the strangulation of the public sector.
The Committee for Workers’ International fully supports the struggle for democratic rights in Hong Kong, China and internationally. We reject the pathetic arguments of Tsang and other apologists for his government that the process must be "gradual". But we also believe that this struggle is linked to the struggle against the unjust economic system - capitalism - that forces workers around the world into a brutal "race to the bottom" of lower real wages, worse conditions and longer hours.
- Free elections now, not in seven years’ time!
- A genuine assembly to replace the rubber-stamp LegCo, elected on the basis of universal suffrage with the power to eradicate poverty, reverse privatisation, legislate for shorter working hours (8 hour day) and end unemployment!
- A voting age of sixteen years. Votes for all residents including migrant workers after two years’ residence.
- For all elected representatives to be paid only the wage of the average skilled worker in Hong Kong - no privileges!
- Full support to the struggle of mainland workers and peasants against sweatshop conditions and for democratic rights.
- A new workers’ party to advance the struggle for a democratic socialist alternative to capitalist and authoritarian rule. Take the major companies into public ownership, under democratic workers’ control and management, in order to plan the economy for the needs of the people, not profit!
This article was first published on Chinaworker.org