China's dirty war against Hong Kong democracy

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China appears to be flexing its muscles and using all the tools at its disposal in an effort to break up the three week long pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Andrew Casey reports.

Anonymous emails were sent to Hong Kong media yesterday alleging that the only independent union movement in China ‒ the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) ‒ is in the pay of the United States.

The South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Standard yesterday morning reported receiving emails with attachments showing the HKCTU had received $AUD 2 million from U.S. national trade union centre AFL-CIO’s key aid agency, the Solidarity Center.

The South China Morning Post reported yesterday:

‘A labour rights group that backs Occupy Central has received grants from a US-based NGO, according to files shared with the media.’ 

The Hong Kong Standard also reported the anonymous leak, saying they received it from a netizen posting them about 40 zipped files, showing emails between the HKCTU and both the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the Solidarity Center.

There is, of course, a lot of suspicion that malign forces in mainland China are now flexing their muscles by breaking into HKCTU computers, stealing data and leaking it to media to harm the union centre, who have actively backed the democracy demonstrators, including early on calling a strike backed by 10,000 Hong Kong workers.

The HKCTU is the only independent, democratic union in all of China and the only China affiliate of the ITUC.

General secretary of the ITUC (and former president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions) Sharan Burrow issued a strong statement of support for the HKCTU at the end of September, at a time when social workers, dock workers, teachers and truckies responded to a strike call backing the demand for universal suffrage.

Key HKCTU affiliates who have organised members to support the democracy demands include the Hong Kong Social Workers General Union, which held a rally of 2000 members, and the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union, who called on members to support the students.

But the HKCTU, with about 200,000 members, is relatively small, competing against the bigger, institutionally backed, pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU).

The storyline that the democracy protests in the streets of Hong Kong are paid for and manipulated by international forces wanting to intervene into China's internal matters is one that has been coming out of Beijing ever since the near three week long protests began.

The demand for universal suffrage voting rights is one long-supported by the HKCTU, who argue tit would strengthen the voice of working people in the local legislature.

The HKCTU leader, Lee Cheuk-yan is also the leader of the Hong Kong Labour Party in the local legislature.

The state-run China mainland paper the Oriental Daily yesterday morning did not hold back, running a story claiming that

‘HKCTU's Lee Cheuk-yan received US funds, to orchestrate Occupy Central.’

Separate to all this, the Hong Kong journalist unions have protested several times about the treatment of their members by political leaders and police during the democracy protests.

Meanwhile, there is some evidence now that the pro-Beijing HKFTU has been organising their affiliates to get union members out to protest against the Hong Kong democracy protests.

Until now, the big HKFTU has not been heard of in the democracy protests, unlike their main rivals in HK — the HKCTU.

Media reports on Sunday and Monday show at least two pro-Beijing HKFTU affiliates organised members to go into the streets to protest against the now near three-week long sit-ins.

Firstly, the Hong Kong Construction Industry Employees General Union members marched in the streets demanding an end to the protest because of the effect on their workplaces.

Also, members the main pro-Beijing construction employer association announced this week they were withdrawing sponsorship of scholarships at a key Hong Kong university, because it was a base for student organising of the democracy protests.

Angered by the pro-Beijing union action, another group of construction workers went into the streets yesterday to support the demand for universal suffrage. Some of these construction workers have helped rebuild barricades taken down by police in last few days.

And then on Sunday and Monday, another pro-Beijing HKFTU union affiliate was in the streets ‒ the Motor Transport Workers General Union ‒ angry that members were having trouble getting around town because of the street occupations.

While keeping quiet for most of the last few weeks, it now seems the HKFTU has decided to show its colours and come out actively organising their union members against those saying the protest must continue so as to ensure the campaign to win universal suffrage has a chance.

Divide and conquer is an old political strategy by authoritarian regimes scared of the power of the oppressed.

The timing of the HKFTU actions came just after an ITUC delegation led by Sharan Burrow left Beijing on Friday.

Burrow and other members of the ITUC delegation met with senior Communist Party officials, who want the ITUC to have closer relationships with the state-run China national union centre — the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU).

The leaders of the HKCTU have been very vocal opponents at global union meetings of any relationship between the ITUC and the massive 134 million member ACFTU.

Keep up with the struggle for universal suffrage and the different Hong Kong union positions by following Hong Kong LabourStart.Follow Andrew Casey on Twitter @AndrewSCasey.

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