DATELINE ASIA

After SARS: working class and democratic struggle revives in Hong Kong

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Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), like cholera and most other diseases, arises as a consequence of the conditions of poverty. In this instance, from the initial transference of the disease from wild animal markets into the slum conditions created by capitalism in Guangdong — where 40% of China’s manufacturing is based.

Now diners are back in restaurants and the businessmen have returned. Lawyers and judges continue their conspiracy in sentencing petty shoplifters to prison, while old school buddies in the government, businesses, legal and accountancy firms loot millions. The tabloid press continues the exploitation of rape victims and people with disabilities. Personal bankruptcy remains at an all time high. The banks, financial institutions and religious organisations  — who own hospitals and schools — again use gangsters to recoup bad debts! Every day, someone is driven to taking their own and their entire family’s lives.

Companies suspended and laid off staff with involuntary “holidays.” The real figure for unemployment and under-employment is 15% as opposed to the 7.8% official level. SARS has not had a direct effect on most sectors of wealth production in the economy. But, like 9/11, it has been used as the excuse to sack workers, close businesses, avoid payment of compensation and arrears of wages and to prevent labour strikes against redundancies.

While Hong Kong people were urged to pull together and unite in defiance of the threat of SARS, big business was pulling the economy apart to ensure maximum profits.

The people at breaking point. The people of Hong Kong have taken to the streets. The end of the SARS threat, coupled with the economic crisis, created the conditions for protest. Not since the revolutionary period of 1967-70 and Tiananmen in 1989 have so many marched. On 1 July, 650,000 marched against the State, poverty, unemployment and misery, and against the proposed national security measures of “Article 23” of Hong Kong’s “Basic Law.” A week later, and in direct defiance of the police and threats of mass arrests, 60,000 blockaded the local “parliament.” The possibility of the Hong Kong government falling has been raised, and the so-called “Left” is calling the movement “people’s power.” 

The people of Hong Kong are demonstrating an incredible level of political understanding  — all can see that the problems are not of disease but of those who allow disease. A direct link is being drawn between the government and big business.  

Class struggle revives. The working class, which had been moving through a series of tumultuous strikes and protests, was suddenly divided when SARS struck. Labour meetings and protests were all cancelled. Politics came to a halt. People were told to avoid all contact with others while the official government propaganda told everyone to forget their problems and unite Hong Kong to fight the greater threat.

For a while, the capitalist class of Hong Kong could breathe a sigh of relief — in the building industry, labour protests dissipated and wildcat strikes disappeared. The struggle of the migrant workers against salary cuts of up to 25% was placed on hold. The protests against war, the economy and the rich stopped.

But in the aftermath of the pandemic, the working class has moved into action in an unprecedented manner. We are seeing wholesale opposition to the State, and capitalism is being questioned. People are sick — not of SARS — but of being lied to and deceived. As the wealthy continue to become wealthier, the rest of society suffers. Temporarily sidelined and distracted by the disinformation about SARS, the struggle of the working class is now back — with a vengeance.

Tasks for socialists. Beijing has become alarmed at this mass movement. Already it appears that the current government of Tung Chee Wah will fall. Beijing has openly criticised his regime for losing control. The “Democratic Party” and other “Lefts” have entered into negotiations brokered by Beijing to form a government of unity — a popular front. This so-called “Left” appears to want to finally be included in the rubber stamping process for capitalism. For the working class this will be a disaster. With the present economy in such a state and the lives of our people being destroyed, all this would do — much to the relief of the “Left” — is again dissipate the magnificent struggles of the people. That the “Left” is even considering an alliance with the bourgeois class while the working class is moving into action reveals all. It reveals their bankruptcy.

Marxists are intervening with thousands of leaflets to expose any alliance with the bourgeois. The forces of the youth and of the working class are being led away from the dead end of the pro-capitalist “Left” alliance.

Marxists, while a small force, have had an effect. However, for us, just as the South Korean Kwangju uprising of 1980 prepared the ground for the “Spring Revolution” of 1987, and just as Reformasi in Malaysia and Indonesia prepared the ground for the battles ahead of the class, so will these tumultuous events in Hong Kong.

We appeal to Marxist organisations worldwide to assist us.

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