The impact of the Umbrella Movement

on the labour movement in China and Hong Kong

 

Strike and assembly of the social services workers on 29 September 2014.

 

The quest for democracy is shared by Chinese and Hong Kong people

Between 28 September and 15 December 2014, the largest civil disobedience campaign in the history of Hong Kong took place in the form of an urban occupation, and drew global attention. Also known as the Umbrella Movement, this 79-day occupation set out to demand genuine universal suffrage for the election of the Chief Executive in 2017, and abolition of the functional constituency seats in the Legislative Council (hereafter: Legco). Support poured in from all over the world, some of it from mainland China, with people willing to pay a heavy price for Hong Kong’s democracy and universal suffrage.

 

Background

In 2007, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (hereafter: SCNPC) confirmed the schedule for Hong Kong to achieve universal suffrage, stating that the Chief Executive in 2017 and all Legco seats in 2020, would be elected through universal suffrage. Yet on 31 August 2014, the same SCNPC made a decision, setting limits for the 2017 Chief Executive election. The decision stated that a nominating committee of 1,200 members would be formed to nominate two to three candidates. In other words, such an election would not be what is commonly understood to be a democratic form of universal suffrage. As a result, civil society considers it “the fake universal suffrage”


The dock workers answered the HKCTU’s General Strike Call, to protest police brutality against demonstrators.

The Swire Beverages Employees General Union supported the General Strike initiated by the HKCTU.

 

The beginning of the Umbrella Movement; workers’ participation and support

After the “fake universal suffrage” proposal was disclosed, protests were organized all over Hong Kong. Between 22 and 26 September, university and secondary school students launched strikes. On 28 September, the police fired 87 cannisters of tear gas and pepper spray at protesters, who were staging a sit-in at the Government headquarters in Admiralty. Protesters had nothing but umbrellas to protect themselves yet more people joined them, and the number of participants and occupied zones increased. This was the start of the Umbrella Movement, sometimes also called “Occupy Central,” which lasted for more than two months.


The HKCTU called for a general strike on 29 September. Calling for a strike with political demands in a short notice was very difficult as there was no legal protection for employee joining a strike in such circumstance. At last, there were some unions such as The Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, Hong Kong Social Workers’ General Union, Swire Beverages (Hong Kong) Employees General Union, Union of Hong Kong Dockers, Hong Kong Disneyland Cast Members' Union , Social Welfare Organizations Employees Union and others answered this call to a certain extent.  Many unions and workers participated and supported the movement in their own ways. According to an estimation of Chinese University’s Communication and Public Opinion Survey, the total participants of the Umbrella Movement could be up to 1.2 million; one sixths of the population in Hong Kong.


A crackdown can never beat our determination to fight for democracy

According to the Chinese website Weiquanwang, by the end of 2014, some 30 Mainland Chinese, including artists and citizens, were detained and arrested, due to their support for Umbrella Movement. Four artists from the Artist Village Gallery of Song Zhuang, in the Tongzhou District of Beijing, were detained for showing sympathy to the Umbrella Movement through their artwork. Making selfies to support Occupy Central was prohibited, and 10 citizens in Beijing who did so were detained on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble".


In Hong Kong, quite a number of worker activists were detained due to their involvement of Occupy Central. On 11 December 2014, some 200 people were arrested when an injunction against the occupation in Admirality was enforced and police conducted a clearance. Many of those arrested were workers, including five of whom were staff or members of the HKCTU.
Ah-Man, a barbender, decided to be arrested in the middle of the movement. He jokingly explained that he had been a believer in “peace, rationality, non-violence and no foul language,” but then he realized “some of us need to think that each of our involvement is significant and be willing to get arrested, or else we can never join our forces together.”


Simpson is a commuittee member of the Logistics Industry and Container Truck Drivers Union. He explained that he believes democracy is the foundation of livelihood, and that without democracy, collusion between the government and business could not be checked. He gave an example in his industry, which has been long affected by the government’s traffic planning, including the lengthy disputes of the repurchase of franchises of two main tunnels for releasing traffic jam.


On 11 December 2014, some 200 protesters stayed and waited for the final clearance in Admiralty.

 

Looking into the future

One might say that the Umbrella Movement failed to achieve any concrete and immediate results, yet it has allowed many Hong Kongers, especially the younger generation, to become politically awakened. Furthermore, even though news has been blocked and distorted, it has still reached some in mainland China and could have far-reaching impact in future.

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