Hong Kong: Right of abode conflict – a socialist standpoint

Fight racism • United struggle needed against neo-liberalism and capitalism

The following is the text of a leaflet issued by Socialist Action (CWI in Hong Kong) as a debate rages over the right of abode for migrant workers from the Philippines and other parts of Asia. There are around 300,000 migrant workers in Hong Kong, who make up the most exploited section of the workforce. They provide the services – looking after the elderly and caring for children while parents are working long hours – that government refuses to provide under its neo-liberal mantra of “big market, small government”. This despite the fact that the government has accumulated a world record level of fiscal reserves – half a million Hong Kong dollars for every inhabitant!

Just as earlier this year, when racist sections of the political establishment and media targeted mainland Chinese immigrants as a ‘burden’ on Hong Kong’s economy and public services, the same divisive and false arguments are being employed today to scapegoat migrants for the deepening social crisis and collapsing services. This campaign has been unleashed because three Filipino migrants had the temerity to go to court seeking the same rights to permanent residence for others – for example ‘expats’ from the US or Europe – after living in Hong Kong for seven years.

The rotting remnants of the Liberal Party, which was virtually obliterated in the last elections, have seized upon this issue to try to claw back some votes. Other pro-establishment parties such as the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), which is the Chinese Communist Party’s political ‘avatar’ in Hong Kong, have joined in the migrant-bashing campaign seeking to win cheap popularity in the coming district council elections and to derail growing anger against government policies. As part of their campaign the right-wing populist politicians have also targeted the Civic Party, a middle-class pro-democracy party, which has spoken out in favour of equal legal rights for migrants from a humanitarian standpoint. The chairman of the Civic Party says it is now facing its “biggest crisis” since its founding five years ago, because of its stand on this issue. Unfortunately, despite good intentions, because this party does not challenge capitalism and therefore lacks viable policies to defend jobs and workers’ living standards, it cannot provide effective resistance to the poison of the establishment’s racist campaign.

Right-wing populist politicians incite racial discrimination

Three migrant domestic workers recently went to court seeking a judicial review of the Basic Law (Hong Kong’s constitution), to fight for the right to apply for Hong Kong residency. The right-wing government and pro-capitalist politicians feel threatened, worrying that their system since the British colonial rule of exploiting migrant workers would be shaken. They would rather exploit the cheap labour of Asian migrants than to invest government funds for vital welfare services like public elderly care and childcare. They want to portray migrants (or sometimes they attack mainland Chinese) as a social burden in Hong Kong, when the real problem is years of government under-investment in schools, childcare and healthcare, in order to offer the billionaires and property speculators the world’s lowest corporate taxes.

This year, teachers and doctors have protested about overwork and lack of funding for schools and hospitals – the problem is the government and the system it defends, which allow these services to rot. Here at today’s protest action, right-wing demagogues incite opposition to migrant workers’ rights – by doing this they are helping the government and the super-rich to hide the real crime! The same politicians who attack migrant workers are responsible for low wages and bad conditions for all grassroots workers in Hong Kong. This is why Socialist Action comes to protest against their campaign.

In addition to suffering double-exploitation, migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong contribute a huge amount of labour power to create wealth in society. Socialist Action defends the rights of all workers, both local and migrant, to access the same level of welfare and their right to live in Hong Kong or their home countries as a basic democratic right. We condemn the government and pro-capitalist politicians who make use of racism to split grassroots struggles and to scapegoat migrant workers, or mainlanders, which is to divert public attention from the real cause of social problems.

The lack of public housing, hospital and schools is due to privatisation, outsourcing, the tax haven for millionaires, and other neo-liberal policies of the government. Hong Kong suffers from an acute shortage of residential and community care places for the elderly, but the government gave only a few sops in the last budget, despite a budget surplus of HK$591.6 billion. One in four elderly citizens die before obtaining places at homes for the elderly. According to the Social Welfare Department, the average waiting time for a place in a nursing home is 37 months.

Private hospitals make huge profits through excessive charges. Many ordinary working class families are forced to turn to hard-working migrant domestic workers to get services that should be provided by government: care of elderly or infirm relatives, or children while both parents are working, for example. Socialists call for all domestic workers to be brought under the control of a democratically run public sector, with secure work contracts, decent wages and trade union rights. Domestic ‘helpers’ and personal assistants to disabled or elderly citizens should be available to all on the basis of need, not ability to pay. This must be part of a massive expansion of half-starved public services such as childcare, elderly and psychiatric care, to create thousands of extra jobs and offer decent pay and professional training. The super-rich should pay for this, by abolishing Hong Kong’s tax haven status.

Socialist Action has been fighting alongside migrant domestic workers since last year’s struggle for the minimum wage. We stress the minimum wage law should cover all workers, including migrant domestic workers. We feel honoured to have had a joint solidarity protest with Filipino and Indonesian workers on 8 March International Women’s Day this year, and we will continue to fight for workers’ living standards and trade union rights. This is the only way to fight against racism.

Socialist Action demands:

  • Minimum wage of HK$40 per hour and standard working hours of 8 hours per day, covering all workers
  • For trade union rights and collective bargaining rights for migrant workers
  • Tax the rich to increase public spending
  • All domestic work to be brought under democratic public sector control, financed by government funds and available to all on the basis of need. Expand public elderly and childcare services. All public services under democratic public ownership, management and control – end privatisation and outsourcing.
  • Build 50,000 public housing units every year. Bring the banks and construction companies under democratic public ownership and control.
  • Fight against racism. Workers of the world unite to fight against capitalism and exploitation.
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