When industrialization began in Hong Kong during the 1950s and 60s, the territory experienced rapid economic growth. However, the living standards of the working class were in destitution. Workers worked nights and days, with no rest day and lived on meagre wages that could hardly feed them. The British Colonial Government was only interested in economic revenue, not social nor labour protection of the Hong Kong people. The Employment Ordinance did not exist. A “Factories and Industrial Undertakings Ordinance” that limited the working hours of women and children was all there was.
Indignant at the employers’ exploitations and fearless of the Government’s suppression, some workers began to devote themselves to the labour movement to fight for more humane working conditions. But while struggling to free themselves from the capitalists’ exploitations, they were to find out that they had gradually fallen right into the controls of the two contesting Chinese political regimes. Labour unions had to take sides: they had to be either pro-Communist or pro-Kuomintang. In this contest, workers were drawn into a series of political struggles in conflicts between the Communists and the Kuomintang, such as the Cultural Revolution and downfall of the “Gang of Four”. Workers were not free to choose their own course of actions. Labour unions were merely used as tools for the political powers to execute orders coming from the above. Self-determination of the workers was an empty slogan and remote dream.
Were unions destined to be controlled by the regimes? Did the workers of Hong Kong not deserve unions of their own? Some soon came to realize that in order to have control of their own destiny, they not only had to fight against the exploitation from the capitalists, they also had to free themselves from political manipulation. In the last few decades, with this belief firm at heart, generations of unionists devoted themselves to this cause and eventually broke new ground for the labour movement in Hong Kong.
III.The civil society awakens: from anti neo-liberalism to anti legislation of the Basic Law Article 23
< Dignity of Labour － Our Path to an Independent Labour Movement > Pdf Version
Reference: "The formation and development of independent trade unions in Hong Kong: Cases studies on Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee and Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions" authored by Mr. POON Man Hon, Ms WONG Ching Man Monina, Mr Chan Chu Fung Thomas, Dr. ChanKing Chi Chris, and Mr. Mung Siu Tat