The following interview was made over internet during the month of August. Comrades from different countries – some Bad Kids of the World – made questions about the anti-extradition movement to the Workers Group, a proletarian collective based in Hong Kong. We want to understand how the mass protests relates to the broader context of class struggle in the region. The text is being published simultaneously in English, French and Portuguese.
Bad Kids of the World [BKW]: Can you present to us the stakes of the fight against Extradition Bill and the impact that such a legal provision will have on everyday life, from the point of view of worker's material conditions of existence, but also on the side of the organizational capacity of the revolutionary groups and social movements?
Workers Group [WG]: I think this is one the most difficult questions to answer. It is quite clear that ordinary people are not going to be affected directly, even after the bill is passed. There are three kinds of people who are most seriously under threat.
1. The super rich people from China, who are escaping from the Chinese judiciary system in order to escape from the prosecution for commercial crimes, or internal conflicts within the Communist Party;
2. Political activists in Hong Kong. Since there is no political freedom in China at all, there is no organized opposition parties in the country. On the other way, we can say that Hong Kong is the only place within Chinese territory where some opposition parties exist. So, many of us believe that these political activists are under threat because of the bill.
3. They may not be Chinese or Hong Kong citizens, but they are people all over the world who are related to China but not welcome by China. Maybe they are NGO workers, religious people, business people, or anyone that the Chinese government did not like.
When you're talking about workers and everyday life, it is very important to understand that, almost all Hong Kong people are Chinese migrants or descendents of Chinese migrants. Many of them have relatives in mainland China and they go back to the home town for family gathering every year. On the other hand, since the 80's, the economic ties between Hong Kong and China is getting more and more complicated. And a lot of Hong Kong people are actually working cross-border, especially for the business sectors. First, it is the factory management and business people who go to mainland China to set up the factories. Later, not only the manufacturing industries, but accountants, designers, engineers, NGO workers, social workers, or even university professors are developing connections and cooperations in China. On the other hand, a lot of Hong Kong people who cannot afford an apartment in Hong Kong may choose to buy an apartment in mainland China in order to keep their assets having a better value added. So that is the close tie of ordinary people with China. Many people also fear that anything happening to them in China may result as a criminal charge. If there is an Extradition Bill, they may also have trouble of being sent to China.
For the organizational capacity of revolutionary groups and the social movement... I would say that the organizational capacity is tiny. The Workers Group only consists of ten to twenty active members. Many people are doing very different things during the struggles, and we do not work in a very coordinated way. But, one characteristic of this kind of mass movement is that a lot of first-time protesters want to do a lot of things. That's why we are also recruiting new people to take part in different kinds of work. For example, we openly recruit some people to help in the street exhibition to show to the neighbourhood about the video of what it's happening in the struggles. On the other hand, we also recruit some new members to visit workers who have to work during the night. Many of them are suffering from the clash between the cops and the protesters. For example, the cleaning workers are directly exposed to tear gas without any protective device. So we are going to visit these workers to talk to them about how to protect themselves and what the struggle is about.
BKW: In order to present the movement to the international public, can you start by doing a brief recap of the movement's history? How did it begin?
WG: A very early background is that in 1984, when the British government signed the agreement with Zhao Ziyang for returning the sovereignty of Hong Kong to China, there is an explicit clause of promise that the Chinese and Hong Kong's traditional system will not merge, in order to solve the fear of Hong Kong people. But in early 2019, the Hong Kong government tried to break this promise. A Hong Kong person killed his girlfriend in Taiwan and fled to Hong Kong. But since Hong Kong and Taiwan don't have any extradition agreement, that person cannot be trialed for murder in Taiwan. So the Hong Kong government is taking advantage of this events to propose an amendment of the Extradition Bill. But actually, the content of the Extradition Bill has nothing to do with this case, because the government is trying to expand the cooperation of extradition to China, which is not related to this case at all. In the past there were already examples for Hong Kong to exchange criminals with Taiwan without any amendment in the extradition law. So it is getting clearer and clearer that the extradition bill have a very clear political intention of sending people to China, instead of bringing justice for the murder case in Taiwan. As a result, since April 2019, they are getting more and more protest and more and more objections in the international community, including the consulate of EU and the United States. But the Hong Kong government is not going to listen to these advices. As a result, on 9 June there is a huge demonstration which is the biggest since 1989. About one million people were involved. After that demonstration, that is what happened as you can see in the news, so I'm not going to repeat. But when talking about the history of the movement, I want to add some background. That is, I think it is not possible to have a comprehensive understanding on this movement just looking at the events. We have to understand the intention of the Extradition Bill.
Many people in Hong Kong do not understand why the Chinese government chose to pass this Extradition Bill in this very specific time period. I believe they do have a timetable for it. What I mean is, since 2012, when Xi Jinping became the president of China, he began to tighten his control over the whole country. He did take a lot of actions. First, he reformed the structure of the government so that the power is focused to one person, that is himself. Secondly, there are a lot of suppression within the civil society inside China. The movement – including the families, and the lawyers, the labor activists – were all suppressed. And the government is having even a tighter control over the media then before. On the other hand, the Communist Party is also requiring every company, even the private companies, to set up a branch of the Communist Party. It means the CP is expanding and trying to be the leader of whatever social institute. So this is what's happening in China. Secondly, the Chinese government is trying to gain complete control over the places where it cannot control completely, that is what's happened in Xinjiang. Xinjian is in the Northwestern part of China, connected to Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and the rest of central Asia. The majority of people there are not actually Chinese, they are Uyghur people. Since it is not a place which is traditionally a Chinese territory, the Chinese government is doing a lot of exploitation and colonization of that region, there is always a nationalist sentiment and independence movement. And since 2013 or 2014 the Chinese government is building concentration camps in this part of the country and sending ethnic Uyghur people to this concentration camps. They name it "reeducation" camp or, the de-extremization camp. What is happening in these camps is that people are being brainwashed and receiving patriotic education for 8 hours, or even 10 hours a day, with some forced labor. This issue is widely reported, and many people believe that the reasons of doing this is because Xinjian is the window of "One Belt, One Road" project, connecting Kazakhstan with highway and gas pipeline with Kazakhstan. It is the reason that they are going to bring tighter control over this territory.
The other part of the action is to gain complete control over Hong Kong and Taiwan. Since Hong Kong and Taiwan are in entirely different settings, they cannot send us to concentration camps, but what they are doing is a series of steps which try to tighten the control, which includes stigmatizing the opposition party and gaining further control over the media of Hong Kong, which includes newspaper and television companies, and buying up a lot of business people and gangsters and to support some of the political parties which are affiliated to the Chinese Government. On the other hand, there are a lot of actions to suppress the freedom of press and freedom of speech in the academic circle. It is happening in Hong Kong and Taiwan at the same time. But Hong Kong is much more troublesome than Taiwan, because it is a place where China is connected to the rest of the world. Everyone from the West, and also from the rest of the world who want to do something in China, no matter if it is business, religion, politics, charity or anything, will have to pass through Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a very complicated place in this sense. So, I think the Extradition Bill is an attempt to bring Hong Kong to a tighter control of the Chinese government. I think that if you are going to talk about the Extradition Bill, we have to examine what happened in China in recent years, and how they are trying to gain complete control over this territory. I think the Extradition Bill is only part of this project.
(Pic: On 21 June i.e. a Friday, 100,000 people took over the street and divided into 3 teams to block the government headquarter, police headquarter and taxation department. It is the first action day solely initiated and coordinated by consensus in anonymous forum and Telegram groups.)
BKW: What is the social composition of the movement? Who are the people in the demonstrations (what is their age, job, class strata)? What sectors took part in the strike? Are these people participating of the movement since the beginning, or are they joining now?
WG: It is definitely across different classes, but when talking about compositions, I think there are two most important groups. The first group is students. When talking about students, I'm talking about people of age 10 to 20. It is quite crazy that people of 10 year are going to the streets and fight, but yeah. It is what is happening now. For these people, I'm not very sure about the family background. Some people who have more contact with the students told me that, the family background of these students is also very different. Some of them come from very well-off families, and some of them are coming from very poor families. But they are in very different conditions.
Now the students in HK are having a really big trouble for several reasons. First, it is the pressure of studying. There is some survey showing that the hours HK students have to spend studying are even longer than the working hours of the ordinary worker. That is, 55 hours. And the average working hour of a HK worker is 50 hours. The second problem is that, now it is quite clear for the students that there is simply no social mobility. No matter you are a university graduate or not, you are definitely not able to buy an apartment or to have a good income after graduating. A very worrying trend is that in recent years there is a record high cases of suicide from students. Up to now, no one can conclude the actual reason why there are so many cases of suicide. But it is quite clear that it will be related to the education problem and the problem of having no future.
The other very important group of people is the young workers, who may be fresh graduated from the university or not. They are around age 20 to 30. These people are another active group of people who take part in all different roles in the protests. I can tell there are difference in the income level, but I'm quite sure that, among them, there are a lot of unemployed people and also a lot of freelance workers, who do not work full time. It is the unemployed and freelance workers who are most flexible to attend every protest. The reason is that, on one hand, they have income, but on the other hand, they have full control over their time. I know a lot of friends who simply quit their jobs in order to have more time to take part in the struggle. They are the easiest people to take part in the strike because they are not worried of getting fired or having any serious consequences after refusing to work one particular day.
These two are the most important groups of people. But, on the other hand, I would say the middle class is still having a very import role in this movement by donating a lot of money to do whatever kind of things, including printing the propaganda material, and to buy a lot of protective devices for the protesters. Before this struggle, we never had helmets and gas filters in protests, and those items are quite expansive. However a lot of people are donating to buy these protective equipment for protesters. So I think these three groups of people are the ones who are most easily identified in the protest. But I would definitely miss a lot of other groups who also did a lot of important things.
[Updates on 6 Sept] The report of an on-site survey covering all demonstrations from 9/6 to 4/8 showed that, the male/female ratio is ranging from 1:1 to 3:2, 70-90% of protesters are university graduates, and about half of the protesters are age 10-30. on the other hand, half of the protesters describe themselves as 'middle class'.
BKW: And what about the relation between the movement and the workplace life? Did the movement produced conflict inside the workplaces, or workplace conflicts connected themselves with the movement? Could you talk a little bit about the initiative of your "Workers Group"?
WG: Not much struggle in the workplaces were articulated for several reasons. First: the Extradition Bill is not quite related to particular workplaces. Second: struggles in workplaces is never a theme in major social movements in Hong Kong. We only have one or two strikes every year and more than ten wildcat actions by subcontracted construction workers who are always suffering from not receiving wages. People in general never realize strike as a way of protest. However during the assemblies of workers of particular sectors such as the one organized by health workers, a lot of workplace issues were mentioned besides talking about the Extradition Bill. It is because health workers in the public sector have been suffering from long working hours and shortage of staff but the government refused to take action. They almost organized the first strike ever in January to protest for this issue.
Besides the general strikes, there is not much workers collective actions about the anti-extradition movement. The only exception is the metro drivers. The reason is that subway is the most important means of transportation for the protesters. Two weeks ago the cops fired tear gas to the metro stations, so metro workers and other passengers are under risk. Now, a lot of metro drivers are requiring their company to stop the cops from entering the metro stations in order to protect the personal safety of the metro workers.
And other workplace issue is not a conflict at all, because it is only unilateral from bosses. In some big companies which are owned by Chinese capital, the bosses forced the staff to sign some petitions to support the Extradition Bill and to condemn the rioters, and also warned the staff not to be absent on the strike day or otherwise they would be fired directly. Since the workers in these workplaces do not have the power to fight back, I prefer calling it a repression. But for other workplaces, I don't think there is some very sharp conflicts. Since an ordinary worker in Hong Kong will not talk about their political view in their workplace, they may not know what their colleagues are thinking about.
The Workers Group is offering to help some workers who get in trouble in this kind of conflicts, but we did not receive a lot of cases. I have to mention another kind of workplace issue during the struggle. It is not directly related to political views, but it is directly related to the protests. That is, Hong Kong is a very busy city, and there are lots of shops in the streets side. So, you can imagine, during the protests, in a lot of cases, when it is still in the afternoon, all the shops and restaurants are operating. Then the cops fire tear gas in the streets. As a result, the shopkeepers and restaurant workers are also under risk. When the cops are charging against the protesters, some innocent shopkeepers may get beaten up as well. We saw some really bad treatment from the bosses that, in some companies, if the shopkeepers decide to stop working earlier because of the clash in the protests, the boss simply deduct their salaries. So this a very important struggle that we are trying to follow up, because we believe that there lot of people are being affected in this way.
BKW: What about the people who are getting fired when the bosses find out that they were joining the protests?
WG: One person came to us because of this problem, but I don't think this is very common. I didn't see this kind of complains in the online forum or in the social media. So I just suppose it is not a very common phenomenon. A lot of people simply apply for a dayoff for the strike, so it is completely legal, and no one can blame the employee for such an act.
BKW: The anti-extradition protests started months ago, but now in August 5 they developed into a general strike... How did it happened?
WG: There were several calls for general strike during the protest:
• 12 June, when the bill is going to be passed in the Legislative Council i.e. the parliament of Hong Kong;
• 21 July, after gangsters attacked people dressed in black after protest;
• 5 August.
These calls for general strike have nothing to do with marxist ideology, and general strike is only viewed as a way to protest and being non-cooperative against the government. Besides that, in 12 August no strike was called, but a lot of people did skip work to go to storm the airport as a revenge of cops shooting a first-aider, aiming at her right eye.
(Pic: 'If we burn, you burn with us', or 'Ngor Yiu Laam Chao' in Cantonese, is an important slogan in this movement, showing the determination to destroy the interests of Hong Kong and Chinese ruling class even if we are going to be destroyed.)
BKW: How was this general strike organised? What was the role of the unions?
WG: All these three general strikes are not organized in any traditional sense, and the union almost had no role on it. Roughly speaking, these strikes were planned following very simply logic.
First step: The choice of day of strike by the importance of the day (12 June), a day after some particularly serious thing happened (21 July), or decided by consensus in internet (5 Aug). The consensus is a mixture of anonymous forum discussion and Telegram anonymous voting.
Second step: the design of action plan. The 12 June one was simple: everyone going to the parliament because the aim is to stop the Bill. The 5 Aug one was better coordinated. There were assemblies in 7 places, plus the traffic blockade in the morning. The assemblies in 7 places were initiated by some people in the internet. Later more activists and union members were invited to take part; the metro blockade in 4 stations were proposed in the internet; the road blockade by slow driving were decided among groups of drivers (not union, mainly car owners).
These general strikes are not organized in the traditional sense. There are just some propaganda material circulating around the internet which help to coordinate people. There are two phases of action on 5 August. Phase one is to paralyse public transport in the morning by blocking the metro; phase two is to have assemblies in seven different places in Hong Kong. I think the reason of having seven places is not to squeeze everyone at one particular spot. And I don't think it is in the plan, but the seven assemblies immediately become occupy in seven places. In every assembly there are tens of thousands of people and no one wants to sit down and to listen to something for quite a long time, so many people simply walk straight and take over the streets. On that day, all over different places of Hong Kong there are clashes and tear gas and that kind of thing. The strike is actually directly becoming, I will call it, "all-HK action day". In the past, the actions were only focused on one particular region, but on that day, there were actions all over Hong Kong, six or seven places.
BKW: So it was some kind of "urban strike", stopping the city?
BKW: Are there spaces occupied by the movement?
WG: No. We just go to different places to make trouble every Saturday and Sunday. It is partly a revision of strategy after the failure of Umbrella Revolution, in which people are exhausted during occupy, without effectively disrupting the economy and daily operation of government.
[updated on 6 Sept] now there are conflicts between people and cops everywhere every night. It is because cops are viewing every citizen as enemy. They stop and search people very frequently. Such an abuse of power made a lot of residents angry and every nighht people in neighbourhood are kicking cops out of the areas they are living in. Another typical form of conflict is, a lot of people are now making noise near the police station, e.g. swaring and playing anti-cop music. Sometimes the cops ran out of the station, trying to arrest some people.
BKW: Did the workers try to steal or to expropriate collectively some merchandises?
WG: Never. July 2019 is the first time for a lot of Hong Kong people to skip metro charge. Before that, everyone is queuing to buy metro ticket after protest.
[updated on 6 Sept] the first major acts to destroy private properties only happened since 31 Aug, when the metro cooperated with cops, letting cops to enter trains and beat up everyone they see – now we call that incident 831 terrorist attack. After that, protesters are breaking ticket machines, gates and glasses of metro stations as a revenge.
BKW: We've seen many different kinds of blockades – from drivers slowing down the traffics in roundabouts to passengers lying down in subway doors to stop the trains. Can you tell us more about the strike tactics?
WG: To stop people from going to work:
1. fake traffic accident
2. slow driving
3. lying down in subway doors
Not going to work:
1. declared strike
2. fake sick leave
3. apply for holiday
4. simply stop working (bosses of small business, freelancer and temporary workers)
BKW: Besides chinese-owned companies, what is the position of the bosses from other workplaces?
WG: Transnational companies including banks and accounting firms are encouraging staff to talk part at strike indirectly, by means of issuing internal notice saying that 'home office is adviced because of possible chaotic situation tomorrow'. As a result, not only the directly hired staff can go to strike, the business partners are also sabotaged.
[updated on 6 Sept] Much has changed since our discussion.
• Flight companies: the Civil Aviation Administration of China ordered Cathay Pacific, the leading Hong Kong based flight company with strong union to hand in a name list of employees who attended to protests at the past, threating to forbidden the airline to pass over China. The CEO refused and was forced to quit. He was replaced by Chinese enterpreneurs who quickly fired several employees for their political participation. They went so far that they are encouraging employees to report on fellow workers' political participation.
• The Metro, now fully cooperate with the cops, is also purging metro drivers who joined the petition of strike.
(Pic: 1 July is particularly important because protesters broke into the parliament building and made a declaration on five demands. Photo courtesy: Jimmy Lam @ USP United Social Press)
BKW: What is the place of nationalism in the struggle and who carries this political project? Are there bridges between workers in HK and China in terms of struggle right now?
WG: The nationalistic tendency in the struggle is getting more complicated. From 2010-2016, the anti-Chinese (immigrants and tourist) xenophobic rhetoric became very popular. Some people began to talk about the 'Hong Kong national identity', and 3 candidates from this camp won in parliamentary election in 2016 (3 out of 70 MPs). There is also a strong rhetoric on separating Hong Kong and China completely and the general public is not interested to know about China at all. In 2019, it becomes quite clear that a majority of protesters (especially the young people) do not regard themselves as Chinese, and the slogan 'Hong Kong is not China' or even 'No China' always appear. The Chinese participation in the suppression (e.g. armed Chinese police are joining HK police in the suppression, agent provocateurs sent by Chinese national security force were captured, checking the mobile phone data when people are crossing the border; army deployed at the border; declaring the protesters as terrorists etc.) further agitated the protesters such that no one want to have any connection with this government.
The 'nationalist sentiment' further develops when the protesters in different parts of Hong Kong are attacked by cops. After those clashes, people not only talk about 'protect Hong Kong', but also being proud of being a part of those neighbourhoods, because people there fought bravely against the cops i.e. the invaders serving Chinese national interest.
The other side of the story is that, there are now fewer xenophobic rhetoric than before, though it is more a strategic consideration instead of change in way of thinking. Because the protesters want the largest number of people to get involved such that even the politicians famous for xenophobic rhetoric talk less about this issue.
BKW: Which are the different local ethnicity identities that exists in the Hong Kong population? Does the people see themselves and organise through these ethnicities? Are there rivals between them?
WG: The demographics of HK is very complicated. 6 million ethnic Chinese people, about 1 million of them are new immigrants from China, coming to Hong Kong in the previous 20 years. The rivals between older and newer immigrants is a theme of the right wing, claiming that the new immigrants are lazy, while at the same time stealing our jobs (!?), cheating old people's money by marriage, and blaming them for supporting the government. The new immigrants are discriminated and many of them are working on low paid jobs. In recent year, since the community is growing rapidly, they are more and more separated from the older immigrants, speaking Mandarin and receiving information from Chinese websites (which are tightly controlled by Chinese government). This kind of segregation is a serious problem in Hong Kong. There are also a small community of ethnic Chinese people coming from Indonesia. 46,000 people from Nepalese, India and Pakistan. Their parents or grandparents came to Hong Kong, mostly working as military officers or other kinds of employers of the British Empire. In the 1990s, they were granted citizenship in Hong Kong. However the education provided to these group is different from education to ethnic Chinese students such that they could not learn a lot of Chinese language in school. As a result, they do not have much choices in work (mainly in restaurants and construction sites) and are discriminated by ethnic Chinese people. You may refer to this article.
BKW: About the migrants workers situation in Hong Kong: how many they are, from which countries, how they are being treated by the local population and how they organise as workers..? Did they participate in the struggle and if they act together with the local people of the movement? How the movement people see immigrants?
WG: 200,000 Filipino domestic workers and 200,000 Indonesian domestic workers. Since late 1970s there are migrant domestic workers from Southeast Asia working in Hong Kong households, earning a salary much lower than the minimum wage (now HKD 4520, much lower than the hourly minimum wage i.e. HKD 37.5). They are developing their own organizations, based on religious groups, people coming fromthe same hometown, political groups, and also labour unions, partly with the aid of local churches and unions. The local people refuse to respect the rights of migrant domestic workers and some conservative politicians take advantage to appeal to middle class domestic employers by advocating NOT to improve the working condition of these workers. There are also a tiny fraction of domestic workers from Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Nepalese and Sri Lanka. The court decided that these workers can NEVER apply for right of citizenship in HK.
For the details on their working condition, you may refer to this other article.
Migrant workers are very active to support local struggles. Actually they are the largest group in the May Day demonstration, larger than any other local unions. The migrant workers union is very supportive towards this movement and they translated some of the material to Bahasa Indonesia to let others understand what's happening now in Hong Kong. There are some migrant workers participating in the demonstration, but not many. So I still don't have the chance to ask what other protesters think about that.
BKW: Do you think that this movement has possibilities to overpass the horizon of organizing and fighting by claiming the citizen identity that has been dominant in the most of the recent movements?
WG: When Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong came to power, she made a slogan of 'we connect'. Funny enough, this movement really connects a lot of groups which were not visible/not much respected at the past. These groups include housewifes, blind people, Deaf people, new immigrants, old people and ethnic Pakistani people. At the past, they are not the major force of protesters. But in this movement, many of them show up with their identities to speak out.
BKW: Is there a continuity of current protest with the Umbrella Movement in 2014? Can we explain the situation by the mere disenchantment after previous struggle episode?
WG: Yes and No. Yes: many people participated in 2014. No: more than half of the protesters are first time protesters. Many of them said that they did not join the 2014 protest because they thought universal suffrage is not important/relevant enough for them to take part, partly because it is a struggle to fight for something which we did not have in the past. But they joined this time because they think it is a regressing situation.
From the strategic point of view, people learned a lot from the lesson of Umbrella Movement:
• 2014: long term occupying a fixed place; 2019: no occupy. <- the act of occupy is not efficient enough to disrupt the society
• 2014: very clear leadership; 2019: no leadership. <- it turns out that without leadership, a lot of people activily initiate actions and ideas to work on, and the movement becomes much more creative
• 2014: a lot of internal conflicts to fight for leadership position; 2019: right at the beginning of the movement, someone suggested a slogan of 'Not Splitting' and it becomes a core guideline.
• 2014: 'peaceful' and 'violent' protesters condemn each other; 2019: because of the 'Not Splitting' principle such tension is suppressed, and many people are now much more sympathetic towards the use of violence because of the anger towards cops and government.
BKW: International media used to limit the movement to the political field, presenting it as a fight for liberal democracy. After the strike of August 5, Carrie Lam herself said it goes beyond that. What could be the deeper reasons, especially considering the evolution of socio-economic conditions and people's livelihood?
WG: The socioeconomic situation of HK people is fucked up in all aspects:
• Work: no regulation on working hour, a lot of young people are becoming slash workers. Unemployed or freelance young workers are important group of protesters. Many of them fought at the front line.
• Housing: people spend 30-60% of their income on housing, and there is no rent control; shortage of public housing. It takes 5-10 years to get into a public housing apartment.
• Retirement: no state managed pension scheme.
• Medical care: shortage of medical workers and beds in the public health system. We have to wait 3-6 hours until getting treatment in emergency room.
• Education: a record high number of suicide cases of people below 18 in recent years, and the average weekly study hour of students (55 hours) is longer than average weekly working hour (50 hours). Students from 10 to 20 are important group of protesters. Many of them fought at the front line.
• Public expenditure: government has no plan to implement long term welfare system. Instead, they are building expensive mega infrastructure projects continuously. A major source of anger before the struggle, and it is the ONLY social issue which stirred up mass protest in the past.
BKW: Chinese government sent threats by evoking the use of force. Is that credible? Are there more concretes counter attacks to prevent a spread of the protest on the rest of the territory?
WG: They have been making this kind of threat since 1997, and it never happened. So this time we are just laughing at the videos claiming PLA is right at the border, saying that 'come and kill us, we know you do not dare to do so'. However the Chinese government is doing a lot of counter attacks:
1. Elite PLA/Chinese cops were sent to Hong Kong to suppress the protest. There are a lot of evidence e.g. footage of cops talking at Mandarin instead of Cantonese; way of fighting and arresting which has never been observed from local cops.
2. Sending national security agents to infiltrate the protesters. Protesters caught 3 of them on 13 August, and their identities were verified to be cops from Shenzhen and a National Security Agent from Beijing.
3. A lot of Hong Kong people were questioned and their mobile phone information were checked when crossing the boarder. Some people whose phones contained photos of protests ere forced to write a letter of repentance and promise never attend any protest again.
4. Mass propaganda in China to name the struggle as Hong Kong independence and anti-China movement.
5. People in China who showed solidarity with Hong Kong were detained.
(Pic: We brought placards showing labour activists, human right lawyers and advocates of rights of ethnic minorities in China to let other protesters associate our struggle with the suffering of people in China.)
BKW: Is the movement connected to foreign powers like the U.S.A.?
WG: It is not at all controlled/led/funded by foreign powers in any sense. I would say this movement is not even controlled by any masterminds at all, neither local nor foreign. Yes, the U.S.A. has a long history of funding opposition politicians, media and union in Hong Kong, and Hong Kong opposition politicians often lobby in Washington or Geneva. But I don't see these people playing important roles in mass protests over the past years, from 2003 till now. Actually their influence is declining because the majority of pro-democratic people in Hong Kong no longer trust political leaders, especially those who are 10-35 years old.
If we are going to talk about foreign influence in this particular struggle, I would say there are 3 particularly important issues:
1. The pro-independent people in Taiwan are very concerned about the situation of Hong Kong, using it as a strong argument for independence. On the other hand, the election of parliament and president in Taiwan will take place in 2019 and 2020, and the struggle in Hong Kong boosted the support of the pro-independent party (the current ruling party);
2. Trump and his allies are taking advantage of the chaos in Hong Kong to give extra pressure to China over the tarriff negotiation;
3. Groups of Hong Kong protesters are lobbying overseas (U.S.A., U.K. and U.N.) to urge these governments to sanction Hong Kong government officials, because a majority of them are actually citizens of U.K. or other western countries.
[updated on 9 Sept] BKW: Whats your opinion on this march in front of the U.S. Consulate calling Washington support? Is it a flag to most of the protesters or a few of them?
WG: Not a huge number, but there are getting more people holding the flag of US now. From a few in July to about a hundred in 8th September. They even sang the national anthem of US! I didn't go to that march because I have something else to do on that day so I don't have first hand information about any counter protest (anyway if I go I will take something related to Assange and Wikileaks as a protest against all sorts of political extradition). I only saw one picture of an American holding a placard showing a message like 'Think about Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and you will know USA is not your friend'.
For me, asking for external support can be reasonable, but idolizing the symbol of another country is simply nonsense. The motivation of going to the US Consulate is to persuade the US Congress to pass the 'Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act'. If passed, key person in HK government who are responsible for repression may be sanctioned by the US government. Many protesters believe it is a good idea as an revenge towards the HK government, align with the spirit of 'if we burn, you burn with us'. Since I was not there I couldn't ask their opinion on such an action. However, I believe a common attitude is that, 'it doesn't matter to try, because we have nothing to lose'.
On the other hand, 200,000 people marching to ask for foreign intervention itself is strange enough, probably the only case in history of the world (please tell me other cases if there is any). It shows that Hong Kong people has no national identity and no one care Chinese government's accusation of cooperating with foreign conspiracy. It is definitely alarming for the CCP.
BKW: We've read in the mainstream media that you guys using different kinds of apps, such as Telegram, Uber, and even Tinder, to organize. How is it going?
WG: Ok, we are not using Tinder to organize, hahaha!
The most important app is called Telegram. It is popular because of two important functions.
1. It can form groups with unlimited number of user participating. It means discussion can have tens of thousands of people involved. Of course, that kind of discussion would be extremely messy; there are so many messages every hour （about a thousand for an active group）.
2. A message channel can be set up. By setting up a channel, I can give information to a lot of people instantly, so they are using this kind of function to provide updates on the protests. As an example of the updates, it can be something like this: 17:43 there are ten police in street A; 17:48 30 other cops and many of them carry armor and guns; 1818 in street B, there are other groups of cops. This kind of on-site update is very important to the protests. These two important functions make the app called Telegram become very important in the movement.
But I think presently there are more people trying to meet each other to have some direct meeting to think about what to do next. This is especially happening around different neighborhoods. In a lot of places in Hong Kong some people are sticking some memos on which they write something and stick to the wall (they call it Lennon Wall to pay tribute to the Lennon Walls in Prague which served as a place to express political dissidence in the 1980s). A lot of people are doing this to show support to the movement and expressing about their opinions. There are some volunteers who helps to maintain these "opinion walls". So the opinion wall becomes a site for the active people in the community to meet each other. Now they are striving a lot of different things, besides the maintenance of the wall, some of them are also doing the street exhibition and to show the protest videos like us. Some people are even planning some community defense organization. The motivations that since cops are cooperating with the gangsters to attack us, why not set up our own force to protect ourselves?
[b]BKW: What is the place of anonymity in the movement? During the Yellow Vests movement, the protesters spent a lot of energy on this quest for anonymity. Anonymity was possible in massive demonstrations or on roundabout occupations, which in a way liberates a force that is completely contained within the framework of the work, where anonymity is impossible, except for sabotage. Were there sabotages during the movement? Are they related to particular areas of work? How do the protesters assume their belonging to the movement? How the protesters get organized for anonymity?
WG: Protesters in this movement do have a very strong sense of anonymity. During the protest, protesters simply do not trust other people who try to talk to them. On the other hand, everyone is wearing a mask, so, people who do not know them or cannot remember their face cannot recognize them. But it also depends on the atmosphere. Sometimes many of them are willing to talk and some other times, they simply do not respond when you are trying to talk.
For organizing, it is quite common to initiate something with several steps:
1. propose an action in anonymous forum
2. leave my Telegram contact in the post
3. anyone who is interested in discussing this action will join a Telegram group to formulate some ideas.
This is the way of organizing in this movement, but it is just to organize actions, but not organizing people. There is very big difference between these two kinds of organizing. The groupings of different actions can be very different. Every time there are different people initiating different kinds of actions, and no one knows the real identity of these people. This kind of anonymity also brings further protection to people who initiate ideas, because the cops will not be able to find them such that the actions will not be threatened by leaders being arrested.
On the other hand, the protesters are now having some sort of consensus that they must have some representativeness. But now, the way they represent the protest is very informal. Every couple of days people from an anonymous forum hold a press conference called "The Press Conference of the People". In this press conference, three or four people who are wearing masks and helmets come out to talk and comment on the recent developments of the protests and to respond the government. I do see some level of openness within this circle of organizers of the press conference, because they are looking for people that would like to speak in the conference. And each time the people who speak are different. So it is not like some people who are trying to become the leaders and hijacking the movement.
(Pic: On 12 August, we stormed the airport as a revenge of a first-aider being shot blind by cops. After 100 flights were cancelled, we left the airport on foot.)
BKW: Once we are talking about representation and leadership, how are the political forces inside the movement? What are the roles of the Right and Left wing inside the movement?
WG: No organizations can show in the movement. You know what I mean. They can only say we are participating in this movement. In the sites of the actions, no one holds their own banners of something like that, because people simply don't care. And I would say that none of the very ideological languages exist in the movement. I'm talking both the Right and Left. Of course the right-wing language is more prevalent among a lot of people, especially in the front line. The people who are directly crashing with the cops, many of them are very right-wing, but they are not going to talk about it openly. Not because they think being right-wing or is something bad, but simply because they don't think it is the time to talk about controversial issues. Instead, they also want to stick to the five themes.
BKW: And what about Left wing? What is the situation of Hong Kong's Left?
WG: Similarly. For those who are working in different parts of the movement, they did not write a lot of stuff. (I think that this interview is quite a good way to force me to write something about!) The problem is that, for people who do not directly take part in the streets, they write a lot, but for me what they write is simply bullshit. So it is quite a big problem, I have to say. What I mean by what they say is "simply bullshit" is that some people... it's just like what the french comrades mentioned about the Yellow Vests: some leftist people will say it is a right-wing movement, a nationalist movement, so we are not going to take part in it. Something always almost identical happens in Hong Kong. And we don't even have the time to argue.
The terminology of "Left" has a very confusing use in Hong Kong. The reason is because Left should refer to socialist or radicals but, in the context of Hong Kong, if you talk about the leftist, then it would be the Communist Party – the Chinese Communist Party. Which is nothing radical or leftist at all, but the labelling of these people as Left still exist. So Left is always used to describe people who are related to the Chinese government. So this is the so called "Left Camp", which include the largest union in Hong Kong, which is the HK-FTU (Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions), who actually did quite some quite important work in the early stage of the organizing of the Hong Kong workers (1950-1980). But since the 1990s, when China is going to take over Hong Kong, they simply becomes operators of the regime to support them brings in their political interest in Hong Kong, instead of continuing to become an important force in the labour world. So this is the first kind of people.
And the second kind of people is... Hong Kong is a strange place which includes a lot of people who are escaping from communist China since 1949. The majority of them are rich people (or they own some lands), so they have to escape from the Communist Party to escape from the land reform and cultural revolution. A small minority which only very few people notice is the political dissidents within the Communist Party. Many of them are trotskysts. I would say that trotskysts is quite an important origin of the Hong Kong activists. And the origin is coming from China because they have to escape from the strong repression of the Chinese Communist Party, they went to Hong Kong and then they started some new movements in Hong Kong. And some of these old trotskysts people really did a lot of things to sustain some kind of spread of leftist ideology in Hong Kong in a very low-profile way for, to say, 30 years. And this final ideology only become well know in early 2000, when the economy is really bad and people think that the traditional opposition party is no longer help them and people start to think about the problem of welfare state and privatization and infrastructure project and since then there are more young people becoming activists – which include me, of course. So this is a very brief history of the development of the leftists in Hong Kong.
But, on the other hand, the young generation of leftists do not have almost captured the old tradition. Not because of any kind of conflicts or whatever, but because the way they entered the movement is very different from the older generation. And not many people – I would say, only very few people – are interested to trace back to that tradition and to read through the documents and something like that. So we’re almost doing a lot of things from the very beginning, I think.
BKW: You mentioned during your answers the "Workers Group", but you didn’t presented it. Maybe it would be good if you explain what is this organization, how did it begin, what kind of political activities do you guys do?
WG: Okay. Four members of the workers group are coming from a community organization... which actually have a seat in the parliament. But the problem is that there were a lot of internal conflicts within the organization after 2014's Umbrella Movement because some people believe that we should get ourselves involved more in this kind of possible path movement. But the other part of the members, mostly the older members and the person who hold the seat in parliament, are much more conservative and do not want to get involved in this kind of controversial issues.
And since then, there were quite a bit differences within the organization. And later, the group of people who wants to take part in mass movements more actively was thinking about some new ways of organizing. Instead of what they did in the past – what we can describe as "clientelism". So after that, since they meet a lot of active working class people during the Umbrella Movement, they become more confident to encourage workers to go to direct action, to have confrontation with their bosses, instead of just helping them solving their own problem. So I’d say that is the origin of the Workers Group. That is: we no longer help the workers to do something but, instead, when they come to find us, we’ll describe more what they can do and we let them make the decision on what kind of action they want to take to fight against their bosses. And they have to do that. But we also support, of course. In the confrontation with the bosses, we always find other workers – specially workers who we have contacted in the past – to show solidarity with them and to meet the boss together.
So I think this is the most important characteristic of the Workers Group. That is, I would say we abandoned the NGO model of labor organization in Hong Kong. First, we do not have any paid staff, we just use our own time and our own money to do all the things. And, secondly, we do not view the workers as someone who needs our help, but instead we want them to become our members. And we want them to learn the skills, handling this skills and doing and leading the conflicts by themselves. I think it's the core of the Workers Group and for the rest of things, like the bills of extradition and the participation in this movement or something, I think these are ideas which are generated after we broaden our consideration on what it is that the workers are needing. What I mean is that the older labour organizations in Hong Kong are highly apolitical, including the trade unions. And that’s why they do not have very important role in the general strike in the August 5. And the reasons of being apolitical is because, in parts, the NGO model that just assumes the workers to have economic problems. And, even when talking about economic problems, talks about a very narrowed economic problem. And many of the NGO workers would imagine workers to be very weak and to not have much time, so the NGO workers are simply handling all the problems for the workers themselves. So, as a result, the workers cannot learn a lot of things during their own struggle and they are continually relying on the NGO workers, which is actually a service provider to handle all the things for them. So it is not empowering, and apolitical. So I think our attempt is to try to change this kind of situation. Both to change the practice of how to get involved in workers issues and, on the other hand, how to encourage the workers to get involved in others issues.
(Pic: 23 August is the 30th anniversary of the 'Baltic Way'. Inspired by this action, some people in the anonymous forum initiated the idea to do the same. It turned out to be a huge success. Now a lot of secondary school students are doing similar actions before the beginning of school, as an act of school strike.)
BKW: To finish this interview, it is important to ask you about what are the perspectives now for the movement. The Extradition Bill was suspended, the mass demonstrations continues... so where is the movement going to, which direction? And also: what is the point of participating in this movement as worker and revolutionary?
WG: Talking about perspective, do you read some news saying that the Chinese army is right at the Chinese-Hong Kong border?
WG: Yes, ok. I would say that that is just a threat and it won’t happen actually. Because the consequence of sending Chinese army to Hong Kong to supress the struggle will be more damaging than the Extradition Law itself. So i don’t think that they’re going to do this. Now it is quite a stalemate, I would say. That is, it is quite clear that the chinese government is sending material and personnel to support the Hong Kong police with the supression. That is to say a lot of the military people who are now taking part in the suppression are Chinese. So the problem is, although we are very persistent in the struggle, every week there is still a lot of things happening. But it seems that we are facing an enemy that has unlimited resources. On the other hand, I’m always thinking about one possibility: since Hong Kong is so important to China economically and politically, there would be a very small chance for the struggle in Hong Kong to accelerate the economic problem of China and, as a result, the situation in China become so serious that the chinese government would have to make some concessions to us.
I think that it would be the best possible case. I’m always thinking about tiny little chances. But up to now the majority of the protestors are still, what we want to focus on is still the five demands, the most. Because now, I would say we only get half. Half demand, actually, because the Bill is not withdrawn, but is just falling, you know. But to think about the long-term effects, say, how the protests will affect the economy of Hong Kong or the economy of China... I don’t have much idea, but I would say that if the struggle is not completely suppressed – which means killing maybe thousands of us, like what happened in Tiananmen –, then the power will continue for quite a long time. And, sooner or later, it depends, I think they will have to make some concessions to us. But if it is really the case, then the protests in Hong Kong really did something for the peace of the world. That is, at least up to now we are already stopping – we are already slowing down – the Chinese government from getting complete control over Hong Kong. And, as a result, we are slowing their schedule to wage a war against Taiwan. Because, as long as they cannot gain complete control over Hong Kong, it is not possible for them to start another war which would take them years. So this is my very long-term ambition for this protests. Right at the begging of them, I was already thinking that actually the Extradition Law struggle is not simply a struggle for Hong Kong democracy, but actually it is a very important battle to slow the totalitarian stages of China of expanding to other parts of the world.
[updated on 6 Sept] finally the Chief Executive of HK declared a withdrawal of the Extradition Bill, but it is far from victory because the focus now is police brutality and universal suffrage, presented as the other 4 demands. So we will continue to fight.
BKW: Do you see any alternative to Beijing's regime other than the type of Western democracies? If yes, what social basis exists for this alternative?
WG: I have no idea. But any progressive transformation of Hong Kong will mean an end of the role of Hong Kong as a global financial center, which will lead to a complete re-organizing of social sectors.
(Pic: I believe the action on 24 August is particularly important because its theme is not only about the five demands, but also to oppose the installation of surveillance devices (hided in lamposts) all over Hong Kong. In this photo, the protesters pulled down such a lampost. Photo courtesy: Stand News)