I refer to The Economist article “Teaching them a lesson”, dated Aug 21. It cited the dissolution of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union and other unions as evidence of a “crackdown” on the union movement and civil society in Hong Kong following the enactment of the National Security Law for Hong Kong. Unfortunately, many of its arguments are flawed and facts not checked.
Contrary to the article’s claim that the dissolution of the PTU is synonymous with the “dismantling of civil society” in Hong Kong, the political group under the guise of a union, with its abundant resources, has been the core organization supporting anti-government movements. Its close affiliation with the Democratic Party and the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China is an open secret. From the “national education” debate in 2012, the illegal “Occupy Central” movement in 2014, to the anti-extradition riots in 2019, it has been supporting the strike of teachers and students to pursue their anti-China agendas. The fact that a staggering number of teachers were involved in the 2019 riots was never a coincidence and the PTU has played a crucial role in radicalizing many teachers and students.
The popularity and legitimacy of other new unions cited by The Economist are highly questionable. Claims that “workers took part in Hong Kong’s first general strike in half a century” in 2019 were simply groundless. Only a small fraction of the local workforce joined the so-called general strike on Aug 5 that year. The fact that only around 100,000 people showed up in the streets for a short period confirmed that the call for a “general strike” was a complete failure. Reporters should have conducted a simple fact check rather than accepting any numbers or claims by anybody or any organization. Opposition groups in Hong Kong, from unions to political parties, have habitually exaggerated protester numbers by a multiple of five to 10 in the past two decades to justify their agendas. Unfortunately, most Western media took those fabricated numbers as facts and repeated them in subsequent reports.
There is nothing wrong with unions taking part in politics. Three seats of the current legislature are returned from the labor constituency. But some newly formed unions have gone so far as to hijack the whole community and undermine residents’ physical and mental health intentionally. The Hospital Authority Employees Alliance, which the article cited, organized a weeklong strike in February 2020 to press for a total shutdown of the border with the Chinese mainland and caused direct harm to the well-being of hundreds of thousands of patients. Around 7,000 staff members did not report for duty, and specialist outpatient clinics services and other non-emergency services were reduced by 40 to 60 percent. The neonatal intensive care units, accident and emergency departments, obstetrics departments and others were severely affected, while certain cesarean sections and cancer treatments were deferred. The hijacking of patients for political ransom was widely deplored by Hong Kong society.
The hatred-fueled strike was terminated amid strong public opposition. The demonization efforts were futile when imported coronavirus cases from the mainland turned out to be only in the single digits, and subsequent waves of COVID-19 were all imported from overseas countries. The Hippocratic Oath was shamefully ignored in those dark days of the strike. The damage to the image and professionalism of medical staff was far-reaching and possibly irreparable.
The mental health of children was the next target of the so-called unions. The General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists inculcated hatred and violence in children by distributing cartoon storybooks that praised rioters as heroes. It referred to the custody of 12 fugitives caught by the Guangdong Coast Guard in mainland waters. The fugitives were depicted as “brave warriors of a sheep village” to combat “wolves” in the storybooks! The storybooks tried to conceal the fact that the fugitives were not sheep, but criminals accused of committing serious offenses, including arson, possession of explosives, and foiled bomb plots. They were originally under due legal proceedings but jumped bail and absconded, illegally fleeing to Taiwan.
Unions’ core functions are to promote and safeguard their members’ welfare and interests. They have constitutional rights to take part in politics but must do so in a legal manner. Therefore, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government’s intention to deregister the speech therapist union, due to its violation of Article 10 of the Trade Unions Ordinance, was entirely lawful and reasonable. The article specifies that the registration of a trade union could be canceled when the trade union is being used for any unlawful purpose or for any purpose inconsistent with its rules. Prima-facie evidence suggests that the union incited hatred and violence, which is against the law.
In the article, it was justified though, to highlight that income disparity is deteriorating in this city. Therefore, genuine unions should unite and fight for better labor welfare and policies rather than supporting the half-year of riots in 2019, which caused huge economic and social costs to grassroots workers. Much more work should be done to lobby the government and local business interests, rather than colluding with foreign forces to intervene in local politics with various means, including sanctioning local and central government officials.
Professionalism has always been one of Hong Kong’s unique strengths and it is the cornerstone of all our pillar industries, including medical and educational services. The strike of medical professionals in early 2020, not triggered by insufficient protection equipment or life risks, but due to hatred toward the mainland, rumors and ignorance toward their own country, represents a regression of this city’s professionalism. For teachers, let’s hope for the emergence of more professional and apolitical unions which promote positive values to millions of our next generation.
The author is founder and chairman of the One Country Two Systems Youth Forum based in Hong Kong.
The article was published in China Daily (Aug 29, 2021).
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