This year’s May Day demonstration in Hong Kong marked a historic event for the Committee for a Workers’ International.
Hong Kong demo sees launch of CWI Chinese paper
Today, May 1st, 2006, was the debut, in a sense, of the Hong Kong branch of the CWI (formed during last December’s anti-WTO protests) and the first issue of our paper ’Workers’ Democracy’. With our red banner blowing in the humid winds, CWI members hit the streets of Hong Kong to do some serious demonstrating. One might ask, what were the issues and topics behind this year’s May Day march in Hong Kong? There were many issues, but primarily, they dealt with the low pay of workers there.
Hong Kong, as most know, is a very capitalistic metropolis. There are over 200,000 millionaires living in the city of just seven million people. The amount of capital that flows in and out, as a conduit to mainland China, is astronomical. The city itself is quite developed. For example, one of Asia’s tallest buildings (ranked 6th highest in the world) is situated here. Hong Kong’s economy, though it suffered a major setback in 1998, is today booming, with growth of over 7% last year. In short, Hong Kong is the hub of capitalism in the region. That being said, Hong Kong is also one of the most polarised societies in the world. The poorest of workers here earn so little that it is almost impossible for them to keep afloat in this sea of greed.
The average salary for a security officer is about 5000 Hong Kong Dollars a month (€540). Nearly one third of the workforce – 920,000 workers – earn less than 9,000 Hong Kong Dollars a month (€970), and according to recent trade union figures, 700,000 work more than 60 hours a week without getting overtime pay. Three fifths of an average worker’s salary is devoted to the extremely high price of rent; most people here do not own their own apartments (which are, by the way, extremely small as compared to other cities). These workers are extremely oppressed and exploited by the rich tycoons who own multi-million dollar estates.
There is virtually no social welfare here, and the price of both education and health care is rising. Under a new government plan, the price of staying in a hospital overnight will rise from 100 to 500 HK dollars. This ploy, crafted by the sly Hongkongese capitalists, hopes to force more and more impoverished workers to purchase medical insurance run by private companies so that they can suck every dime from their pockets.
Schools are being closed due to the lack of spending in the education sector, teachers’ wages in public schools are being cut, and students are being forced out of school, as only the best students can attend school (with schools being closed, there are fewer spaces for students). In other words, Hong Kong is a degenerate capitalist society in which the poor are grossly exploited.
Minimum wage needed now
The CWI intervention in the May Day demonstration focussed on the demand for a minimum wage and our call for a statutory minimum of 9,000 HK dollars per month. At the demonstration in Victoria Park, our small group started to sell the first Chinese language CWI paper to the demonstrators, as well as other items such as Socialism Today magazines and an array of badges. The CWI stall, situated at the entrance of the park, gathered much attention and was a notable landmark. Migrant workers, Chinese workers, and even Caucasians came to visit the stall to find out more about the CWI and socialism. Many children visited the stall to purchase socialist badges (which their parents paid for).
Not surprisingly, most of the marchers and demonstrators were migrant workers from the Philippines and Indonesia. These migrants, mostly women, work in Hong Kong primarily as house cleaners, child minders and care assistants for the elderly. The Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body (AMCB), which organises these women workers, was one of the largest organized groups present. They were fighting for a minimum wage of 3,670 HK dollars, the abolition of the government’s 400 HK dollar ‘levy’ that is deducted from their monthly salary, and abolition of the ban on Nepali migrant workers. They were, to my fascination, extremely well organized. During the march from the park to the government offices in downtown Hong Kong, the masses of migrant workers carried an array of flags, and had specially designed costumes (such as the infamous ”American Butcher” costume). One must remember that the migrant workers are completely self-organized. Their numbers were truly mind-boggling. The CWI, marched in the middle of the column of Filipino and Indonesian women migrant workers; one could not see the end of the line (at least from where I was marching)!
On this day, the Hong Kong section of the CWI, collected in over 900 HK dollars; a sum that we thought we would not have achieved. Altogether with the sales on this demonstration we have sold over 110 copies of Workers’ Democracy in our public activity recently.
We are very impressed with the turnout of the demonstration, and we are very hopeful that the public will respond to the tyranny of the tycoons in Hong Kong. The CWI in Hong Kong is, nonetheless, very new, and we are still trying to find new members. But we are invigorated and hopeful that we may accomplish the tasks set before us.