Workers’ Struggle Remembered on 4th June: Workers in the Tiananmen Square

Workers is coming! Workers in the  Tiananmen Square at 1989

29 years ago, a people’s movement for democracy have united people in Hong Kong and mainland China, while it also revealed the nature of dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).   Workers and citizens in Hong Kong watched, in tears and with broken hearts, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) firing at protestors in Tiananmen Square in news reports.  29 years later, Hong Kong is also facing repression by the dictatorship of the CCP.  

Since Xi Jin-ping became the head of CCP, his iron-fist policy has put human rights activists in mainland China under the torture of government and the National Security, and Hong Kong’s democracy is also facing harsh repression.  The HKSAR government has followed the Xi regime and handled dissidents with high hand approach.  The CCP regime is determined to tighten Hong Kong’s political space, as observed from the disqualification of candidateship in the Legislative Council election in 2016 due to political position, and the disqualification of elected Legislative Councillors last year.   Stripping citizens’ rights to be elected with the accusation of “violation of Basic Law” align with the approach of the CCP’s “rule of law” which suppressed dissidents and civil society under the name of the law.

Globalization has boosted economy of China in the past 20 years.  Low labour cost and tax benefits have attracted manufacturers around the world to set up their factories in China, which resulted in economic growth of unprecedented speed.   However, it was the blood and sweat of Chinese workers which fuelled the high growth rate.   Endless over-time work and serious lack of occupational safety protection have put workers in dangerous working environments on daily basis.

The international financial crisis of 2008 has brought economic downturn worldwide and China, which relied heavily on export for its development, in particular faced a substantial decrease of economic growth rate.   Coupled with rise of trade protectionism in the USA, low domestic demand and saturation of large scale basic infrastructure in China, the Chinese government found it not possible to absorb excess capacity with its domestic economy.   Opportunity for foreign investment was badly needed for China to consume the excess capacity and maintain stable growth of domestic economy.  In 2013, Xi Jin-ping proposed the “One-belt-one-road” economic development plan, in the hope to consume domestic excess capacity through trade, basic infrastructure development and other economic cooperation with countries covered by the plan.  These countries would receive subsidies to improve their infrastructure through the cooperation plans, at the price of obtaining loans from mortgage on operation rights and giving priority to Chinese enterprises in project contracts.  Cooperation agreement also include terms to allow Chinese enterprises to bring in Chinese workers for the projects, as a way to consume excess capacities, which means job opportunities for local workers would not increase with development of projects, forming another economic suppression.

The “one-belt-one-road” strategy is not just an economic project, but also a master plan for China to expand its political influence.  According to recent statements of the CCP government, the strategy is also to promote the “Chinese model” to other developing countries as an alternative to “Western development model”, and to establish healthy “non-interfering” cooperation.  Under the “one-belt-one-road” investment and cooperation, training will be provided to government officials and “promote” the Chinese media, judiciary and party-state system to developing countries.   By exporting China’s authoritarian political system to other developing countries, it is to gain international recognition of the “Chinese model” and also to strengthen relations with countries along the “one-belt-one-road” and China’s political influence in the region, and eventually to promote China’s status in international political arena. 

Civil resistance has always been under suppression in the Chinese totalitarian regime.   However, even the harsh suppression by the Xi-regime could not put off all resistance from the civil society in mainland China.  Human right lawyers helping citizens to defend their lawful rights, and workers launching collective actions against exploitation by employers and enterprises are just some examples showing that suppression by the regime did not stop all resistance.   Workers affected by pneumoconiosis in Hunan have launched their second collective action 9 years later, cross-city labour actions by workers of tower crane and strikes by drivers of Lalamove during April to May are examples of workers’ struggle which were not stopped by high hand governance by the regime.

In 1989, students and workers joined hands in the Tiananmen Square to protest against the authoritarian state, and to request the CCP government to stop corruptions and build genuine democracy.   Thousands of workers in Beijing and other cities over the country got rid of control of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions and set up their independent unions to support the students’ movement for democracy.   In Hong Kong, which were still under the rule of the British colony, over 1.5 million people went on street to support people in Tiananmen Square, and requested the Chinese government to materialize true democracy.  However, such request was considered as a formidable enemy by the dictatorship regime which was afraid to face challenges from the people.  The then leader of the CCP Deng Xiao-ping ordered enforcement of martial law and dispatched the PLA to suppress the “unrest”.  Subsequently, people in peaceful protest were killed.   29 years later, some people in Hong Kong are giving up people in mainland China and claimed that “commemoration of 4th June stand in the way of Hong Kong people’s identity building”, and rejected discussion of 4thJune and inheriting the mission.  However, separating one-self from the history to achieve individual well-being is a regression.

As both people in Hong Kong and mainland China are facing repressions from totalitarian governments, we should unite and fight with other people in suffering, rather than concerned only with our own well-being.   The labour union movement is to advocate for workers’ unity and collective power to fight against exploitation of the capitalist, to get back our rights and benefits, and to defend workers’ dignity.  Only in unity and resistance that we have chance to overthrow the totalitarian regime, and that was the reason why workers and students fought for democracy and freedom in the Tiananmen Square in 1989.  The HKCTU will continue to plant our foot in Hong Kong and stay with the people under repression in mainland China to fight for democracy, human rights and workers’ dignity.   The spirit of the 1989 Movement shall be carried on as we continue our fight against the authoritarian regime.