Passing hope on in the midst of stormy times: An interview with two HKCTU chairpersons

 This summer, the HKCTU has experienced two elections, with two very different outcomes and prospects. In July 2016, a new chairperson was elected at Executive Committee Election and in September, General Secretary, Lee Cheuk-yan, lost his seat in the Legislative Council Election. How do the veteran chairperson Pun Tin-chi and newly elected chairperson Carol Ng see these changes of time?


Tin-chi and Carol are leaders with very different styles and have led Hong Kong’s independent labour movement in different eras. Nicknamed as “the Schoolmaster”, Tin-chi used to be an executive member of Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union and had participated in the labour movement for decades. “Leading decades of labour movement, the Schoolmaster is very experienced, mature, and assured on many issues. You can tell from the way he runs meetings. He gives thorough analysis on social issues with his unique perspectives. These all made him a convincing leader.” Carol’s portrayal of the Schoolmaster is also shared by many others. Indeed, “down to earth” is his philosophy in union governance. He concluded his term of office at the HKCTU by quoting the late Mr. Szeto Wah’s lecture, “Uncle Wah used to tell us, people and money are mostly essential elements of a union. During my chairmanship at the HKCTU, my priority was to develop membership base and maintain financial stability with some achievements. What delights me most is, affiliates are now starting to take membership and income more seriously”, the Schoolmaster talks in his usual gentle, loving fatherly tone. After serving six years as the chairman, he built a solid foundation for the HKCTU and the incumbent president of the HKCTU will surely continue to support labour movement in another position.


If the Schoolmaster is a loving father, then Carol Ng plays a role of a comrade. “As a leader, my priority is definitely the public’s interest and a full consideration of the overall situation. I also set a good example and hope that I could motivate others to join”, Carol talks about her philosophy to lead. She does not want to be a general only giving commands, but also a comrade to march alongside the people. “Carol indeed has more experiences in actions than I do.”, the Schoolmaster sees her as a leader who is always ready to fight. “From the lawsuits against union discrimination, to her efforts in extending cabin crew’s retirement age and the recent ‘bag-gate’ incident, Carol always shows us her determination to fight till the end with the people.”


When talked about HKCTU’s future challenges, they both stressed youth recruitment as their priority. The Schoolmaster sees having a young chairperson is an important move to recruit young people, “having a young chairperson can set a cornerstone for the union to recruit young people and encourage our youth members to participate labour movement.” Carol believes that the union must keep abreast of time and follow the social trend, “technology develops rapidly and we should keep updating our ways in communication to serve our members’ needs. Yet the core of labour movement is always organizing and the HKCTU should keep itself updated and learn from its experience, to reach the goals it has set for the next three years.”


Shortly after the HKCTU’s Executive Committee Election, Carol has to face the unexpected defeat of Lee Cheuk-yan at the Legislative Council Election. Though Carol and the Schoolmaster are still upset, they are certain that they would move on and keep their hopes alive for the next Legislative Council Election four years later. “Losing the seat is definitely a bad news. But how can we make the best out of it? The defeat shows that our membership and organizing effort are not strong enough to secure Lee’s seat and we have to work harder to recruit members and consolidate our members’ support in future”, the Schoolmaster says. Carol thinks that HKCTU should adopt some changes, “though we lose the seat, we should not lose our hopes. We should learn from our mistakes and do better. In future, the HKCTU should strengthen its cooperation with the Labour Party, to have better labour division in policy advocacy, in order to maximize the synergistic effect between the two actors in social movement. We should also strengthen our organizing and reduce our dependency on legislators. The election campaign should start now”


Both chairpersons disagreed that while Hong Kong people’s political awareness keeps raising, the importance of labour issues declines. “Inequality still remains in labour relations. Though HKCTU achieved to get legal minimum wages legislated, the government are still sided with capitalists and labour conflicts exist everywhere. We should work hard to eliminate these kind of conflicts.” “We should broaden our thoughts, as long as you are employed, regardless of your occupations and ranks, you are a worker and you are exploited at your workplace. Labour issues might get less attention at the moment, but it does not mean that labour conflicts do not exist. We have to make all workers realize the importance of eliminating these exploitations”, the Schoolmaster concluded his decades of union work with this statement.


Two chairpersons with different styles and perspectives: one stresses foundation while the other looks into innovation. Yet, they both take organizing and promoting independent labour movement as their ultimate quest. It is clear that the path is rocky, but they will work together, base on a solid foundation and look out for new ideas. Under their leadership, HKCTU would be ready for every challenge ahead. 

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