CHINA Killing the Hong Kong Teachers’ Union

Union press conference, August 10 / photo Candice Chau Hkfp

On 30 July, The People’s Daily, organ of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), called the Hong Kong Teachers’ Union (HKPTU) a « malignant tumour » that should be « eliminated ». The very next day, the Hong Kong government’s Education Bureau declared that it no longer recognised the HKPTU, accusing it of spreading political propaganda. This 95,000-member union, affiliated to HKCTU, the independent trade union confederation of this Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, organises 90 % of the city’s teachers. 

Earlier this year, the Hong Kong government, which takes orders from the Beijing regime, had the president of the HKCTU, Carol Ng, arrested and imprisoned, followed by the general secretary Lee Cheukyan, for their participation in the huge demonstrations against the law of extradition law and against police violence in 2019 and 2020. After the adoption of the repressive National Security Law in the summer of 2020, the witch-hunt is now on, and after the trade unionists, it is the trade unions that do not pledge allegiance that are targeted by the authorities. 

In May, a trade unionist asked: « The problem is whether doing what trade unions have always done – such as criticising government policies, organising strikes in industry or linking up with international unions – would be considered violations leading to the banning of a trade union« . Here is the answer. 

So the teachers’ union, under « enormous pressure », according to its president, immediately decided to break its links with Education International and the HKCTU confederation in the hope of no longer incurring the wrath of the authorities. But this was not enough: on 9 August, the HKPTU leadership decided to dissolve the union. « It is a tragic and deplorable situation, of course, but with the benefit of hindsight and all these long years of struggle and development, we should have no regrets. (…) We sincerely ask you to understand and accept this difficult decision, in a situation that we did not want and where we had no choice« , the president wrote to the union members. 

It is clear that these trade unionists have been left alone to face the authorities, and that those who lead the international trade union movement have not put their immense resources at the service of the defence of these unions and the Chinese trade unionists who have been imprisoned. If Carol Ng and Lee Cheukyan, trade union leaders who are members of international trade union bodies, can be locked up without a hitch, it would be wrong for the Beijing authorities to hesitate to subordinate trade unions to the National Security Law, to resort to the Public Order Ordinances of the time when Hong Kong was a British colony. 

The aim is to stifle the remaining freedoms of expression, organisation and demonstration in Hong Kong, and to send a message to mainland Chinese workers that any form of independent organisation is doomed to failure even as they constantly seek to organise themselves.

Based on information made available to the Commission of Inquiry in China