New era and a new form of organization?! From Telegram group to the strike prep team

Written by: Mung, Chau

The movement against the Extradition bill began against the backdrop of long-accumulated social grievance in society. Before the march joined by one million people on 9 Jun, 2019, "Withdraw the evil law" and "Extradition Bill" had become hot topics on social media. Heated discussions surged on Whatsapp and Telegram (TG) groups. Even in Baby Kingdom, a "blue-ribbon" (pro-establishment) Facebook page, there were a lot of posts urging people to take to the streets. This was how various specialized groups came about. These groups became even more active after the two demonstrations on 9 Jun and 16 Jun, 2019. The movement also brought political issues into the workplace – people such as doctors, lawyers, civil servants, journalists, social workers, and grass-root workers showed their stands with their staff ID cards. Without revealing personal identities, they have created momentum for the movement, and have pushed different socio-political actions, including the "Fly With You" events by the aviation sector, flash mobs by the financial sector, and the silent sit-ins by the medical sector. During the movement, two strikes were initiated, one on 5 Aug, and one on 2 Sept and 3 Sept consecutively.

Interviewees are: Easy (right) from the financial sector & Winston (left) from the social work sector

Social worker Winston: "This movement is more important than any job."

Winston and Easy are part of a cross-profession strike prep team. Each plays different roles in the movement. They have initiated the strike on 2 Sept and 3 Sept,

"I think that this campaign is more important than any job. I want to focus on this battle first," social worker Winston says. In early June, he joined the social worker counseling group, but he was not very active until the strike on 5 Aug. On that day, he was on his way for a job interview, and was passing by a train station. A young man was being beaten by the "blue-ribbon" people, because he had obstructed the station entrance. Winston stepped in, boldly showing his social worker ID card, and tried to stop the conflict. Finally, he chose to stay and help, and forfeited the job interview. "I saw how the strike on 5 Aug had a great impact on Hong Kong. I think there is hope in Hong Kong, so I want to do more." Winston appreciates that the current union has strong execution skills,  but there was a lack of cross-sector strike, so he pushed for one through TG.

Financial sector Easy: "It is so politically sensitive nowadays; everyone wants more support."

For Easy, who is from the financial sector, he has been politically active since the Umbrella Movement, having joined political organizations in the past. In July 2019, he joined a TG group representing the financial sector. Within two or three months, the group had gained a lot of like-minded people. Soon, a workers' union was formed. "I have been meaning to form a workers' union. When I saw this group, I knew the opportunities have come, especially when it is so politically sensitive nowadays--everyone wants a support network. So I put a lot of effort to push (for a union)." He recognizes that the financial industry has long been exploited, so he already had the idea of forming a union when he joined the group. Fortunately, he met some passionate people in this group. That was also why he gradually became more outspoken and active in the movement. He even went above and beyond aside from forming a union. Since August, the Telegram groups have connected with each other and evolved into a cross-border strike prep team.

Telegram becomes the incubator of two strikes

Several sectors held a press conference, urging more people to participate in the strike on 2 Sept.

The strike on 5 Aug was initiated by a Telegram group, which also proposed the mass allies in seven districts of Hong Kong. It sparked other people to take the lead of each district's activities, preparing in separate Telegram groups. The strike on 2 and 3 Sept was promoted by the cross-sector strike prep team that involved more than 30 sectors, including healthcare, retail, social work. From publicity, assembly to execution, there are groups responsible for each task. The results of the discussion will be brought to the respective groups by representatives from different sectors, and opinions will be collected and decisions will be made accordingly. Loose structure is one of the features of TG groups--anyone can join or leave at any time. Because of this, the participation threshold is low.

Winston once opened a TG group that strategizes the strike. He advocates sharing information strategically to the public. "In TG, no one pays attention to a long discourse and discussion. Yet, if an idea is expressed via an image, and we ask people to forward the message, the idea can be spread to people outside these groups." For Easy, he believes that TG has the advantage of encouraging everyone to contribute and use their creativity. Everyone can play to their strengths. "Everyone can contribute as long as they want to." But the downside of TG is excessive information. After a while, many people will "disappear," and the task is to encourage them to speak up again.

Has the method of organization changed?

Winston and Easy believe that Telegram is only a communication tool, and new modes of organization have to combine with traditional ones. Easy explains the beginning of the movement, "When it started, no one was taking a lead, but we all wanted to do something, so many followed closely public groups and channels on TG. After three months or so, people formed their own private squad and a sense of belonging. It may not be possible to call for a lot of volunteers through public channels." In the long run, Winston and Easy think collaborations between different groups are needed to bring proactive people together for more actions. Especially when some groups show signs of fatigue, re-integration and reorganization are necessary.

Winston added that, the current actions mainly take place in Telegram. But beyond Telegram, efforts need to go to recruiting Peaceful, Rational, and Non-Violent (PRN) protestors and encourage them to do more. Reflecting on the strike on 2 and 3 Sept, Winston and Easy think that it was a successful rally, but they failed to paralyze the Hong Kong economy. They believe that with various non-cooperative movements, Hong Kong people can participate in their own ways. One step at a time, a more influential political strike would be possible.


Why political strike?

As the Valiants were brutally beaten on the streets, many PRN were extremely anxious and worried. They wanted to help, but they may not be able to go to the frontline. What else can they do?

For the sake of increasing the cost of governance, the Valiants disrupt the socio-economic order by confronting the police, blocking roads, train stations, airports, and shopping malls. However, the Valiants have also paid a high price, with police violence escalating continuously, as well as mass arrests and prosecutions.

The PRN can equally do a lot to paralyze the economy and social order--and may be relatively easier. If one employee does not go to work, business can run as usual. But when ten employees, a hundred employees refuse to work at the same time, a company would be forced to shut down. Imagine a workday with no workers, the economic activities of the city will bring to a halt, like a clock without a battery.

This is different from the usual strikes, which are usually the results of labour disputes, or are formed against individual employers or specific industries. This type of strike is generally called "political strike," which targets against a social policy or injustice of the government. It aims at promoting social change through industrial actions across the city. In the Anti-Extradition Bill Movement, wage earners have been on strike on 5 Aug, and consecutively on 2 Sept and 3 Sept.

There are also many examples of political strikes in foreign countries. During the communist dictatorship in Eastern Europe, the Polish Union called Solidarity launched a wave of national strikes that eventually forced the government to promise democratic elections in 1989. In South Korea, the Confederation of Trade Union also launched a mass strike against then-President Park Geun-hye’s suppression of labor movement, violations of human rights, and corruption. As the movement continued to grow, the president was forced to step down.

When roads are blocked and occupied, the government can dispatch riot police to clear the scene. But when it comes to a political strike launched by wage earners, the riot police cannot point a gun at them to work. As striking increases economic losses for employers, and the cost continues to rise, it would become unbearable for big corporates -- they eventually have to pressure the government for a solution to the political crisis in order to solve their own problems.

Once, one million and two million people in Hong Kong had taken to the streets to fight for freedom. If the group of demonstrators turn to strike on a large scale, can you imagine the impact? Although there are no guns and bullets, remember: the number of people is the most powerful weapon of all.