Friday, 26 April 2013

Frustration Building

A large crowd gathered at Cheung Kong Center a few days ago, again today
The striking dock workers in Hong Kong are well into their fourth week and are camping out at tycoon Li Ka-shing's Cheung Kong headquarters, which is across the road from my gym.

Tonight as I left the gym, I heard loud shouts outside and when I got closer I saw a large crowd of some 250 people along the far west lane of Garden Road as they were cordoned off by scores of police linking arms with each other.

Further up the street were many more police ready to be mobilized if necessary and some ran down the hill upon orders. They tried to appeal to the protesters with bullhorns but it was useless, though the people were not rowdy; they weren't interested in listening to the police.

Instead they chanted, "Open the door!" because this afternoon Cheung Kong won an interim injunction to prevent protesters from entering the building. Earlier in the week the protesters went to the seventh floor and had a sit-in.

Li's other company Hutchison Whampoa also hit back at protesters today with its own PR campaign in this brewing war of words.

The company accused unionist Lee Cheuk-yan, the Confederation of Trade Unions and Union of Hong Kong Dock Workers of launching personal attacks on its chairman, Li, even alluding to the Cultural Revolution in creating a "class struggle".

"Lee and the CTU have been using different excuses to escalate their action. They uphold the banner of 'class struggle', twist the facts and make low and venomous insults," it said in a full-page ad in Chinese newspapers.

It said the unions' demand on a 23 percent pay increase was "extremely unreasonable" and added, "Their aim is to instigate hatred for the rich. They encourage verbal abuse to hurt and demonize Mr Li Ka-shing. They have no real intention to resolve the dispute and only mean to create trouble."

Let's see here... the average dock worker makes about HK$20,000 ($2,576) a month, about one-third of what their colleagues in Australia make and have better working hours. And Li has a net worth of $31 billion according to Forbes, making him the 8th richest man on the planet (number one in Hong Kong).

The dock jobs have been subcontracted out so many times that Li has actually been skimming off from these workers for many years. They are only asking for what they deserve plus inflation.

And so tonight after the protesters were legally kicked out of Cheung Kong, the dock workers staged an impromptu protest march tonight and they will surely continue their fight for decent pay in the days and weeks to come.

Perhaps the sad thing is that even though tonight there were people of all ages there, including many young people, the dock workers' cause is not getting the rest of the population's support to get more leverage out of Li.

The public doesn't really understand what dock workers do or sympathize with their plight. But these people play an important role in keeping Hong Kong's import/export industry flourishing, moving hundreds of thousands of containers everyday on and off ships.

Li is probably fine with waiting out the strike -- he's probably saving more money by hiring even cheaper scabs.

Which is why the protesters really need to appeal to the public's discontent with Li (recruit Elsie Tu?) and channel that energy into a massive protest that stops the city, like the one on July 1, 2003. Only then will business leaders and the government really pay attention and try to resolve the issue.

2 comments:

  1. I love Hong Kong but it is not an easy place to live in if you don't have (enough) money. And the HKSAR's income Gini Coefficient is appalling.

    Re Li Ka Shing: Earth's calling to Superman -- and he would do well to get back down and be more caring of the welfare of humankind in general.

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  2. Hi YTSL -- definitely have to agree with you on both points. Hong Kong's Gini is one of the worst in the world... and as for Li... he got a moral lashing from Elsie Tu, but as I said there needs to be a groundswell before he realizes he isn't exactly revered anymore...

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