Workers Doing It Tough In Hong Kong
Demonstrations by thousands of people in Hong Kong have been going on for a few months now.
The demonstrations have been portrayed in the Western media as protesting for "freedom" from the heavy hand of the Chinese Government in Beijing. Whatever the outcome of these protests, and whatever the extent of interference by foreign powers in fomenting the protests, they keep the spotlight off another arguably more fundamental problem in Hong Kong, the declining living standards of the majority of the working people.
In the Friday 26 July 2019 edition of the Australian Financial Review there was a feature article headed "Tiny Homes, Low Wages and the World's Longest Working Hours". The article was not about the workers in a large city of India or mainland China or the outer suburbs of a large city in South America. It was about Hong Kong.
The article described Hong Kong as a semi-autonomous Chinese city of 7.4 million people with 1 in 5 people living in poverty and a minimum wage of $A6.10.
The writers of the article interviewed a 55-year-old college educated person who took part in the protest demonstrations. He told the writers that he was also angry at lack of job opportunities in his chosen profession which was why he had to work 12-hour shifts as a security guard six days a week at a flat rate of $A8.15 per hour. He said the poor employment opportunities had been present for over two decades and that like about 210,000 other Honk Kong working poor, he had to live in one of the city's thousands of illegally sub-divided apartments, some so small "they are like cages and coffins".
Even the rent in these sub-divided apartments is high, averaging over $600 Australian per month.
Another protester interviewed by the writers of the article was a 27-year-old nurse at a public hospital. He was still living with his parents and shared a bunk bed with his 30-year-old sister.
The situation is even worse for the 300,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. Most of these come from the Philippines, but also Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Under Hong Kong law, these migrant workers are virtual slaves, unable to get any other job, unable to apply for permanent residency and thus ineligible for state-run health care services.
According to the Labour Start-inspired book, "The Strangers Among Us: Tales From A Global Migrant Movement" edited by Joseph Atkins, Hong Kong's Court of Appeal ruled in March 2013 that foreign domestic workers don't qualify as "ordinary residents" and so cannot apply for permanent residence after seven years like other foreign workers in the city can.
This oppressive situation for the majority of workers in Hong Kong is a sad reflection on both the remnants of British imperialist rule in Hong Kong and the class nature of Hong Kong society with rich property developers and "get rich quick" entrepreneurs in a new Special Economic Zone in the Greater Bay Area making big profits at the workers’ expense.
This underlying class divide is sure to give rise to many more struggles ahead which will see the further strengthening of the working class in Hong Kong and make it a formidable force for fundamental social change.