National security law: unions and student group threaten to strike as ‘warning shot’ to Beijing

Natalie Wong

Workers and students are threatening to strike as a “warning shot” against Beijing’s proposed national security law for Hong Kong, if supported by tens of thousands of participants.

Labour unions, including one for civil servants, and a student group are organising the action, which will go ahead if 70,000 people take part in a vote next week and the move is approved by a 60 per cent majority.

The proposal comes as 17 of 18 district councils passed a motion calling for the new law to be withdrawn, arguing it pushed the city towards an “irrecoverable abyss”.

Workers across all types of businesses are encouraged to join the unions and vote on the planned three-day disruption, according to Alex Tsui Hau-lai, chairman of Hong Kong Hotel Employees Union.

“The draconian law will devastate the local economy,” Tsui said. “Our workers are the eventual victims of Chinese political agenda. We will need a strong mandate to stage large-scale actions and present our collective dissent over the law to the international community.”

Beijing last month unveiled the legislation outlawing acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in the city’s affairs. The National People’s Congress approved a resolution for its standing committee to draft the law, which could be done as early as this month, before it is inserted into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution and takes force through promulgation soon after. While the administration, pro-government parties and several tycoons say the law will help restore stability in the city after a year of social unrest, the opposition camp and its backers fear fundamental freedoms will be lost.

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The strike is being supported by 23 pro-democracy labour unions, with more than 10,000 members spanning 20 industries, including aviation, transport, construction and information technology.

Among them are the Union For Civil Servants, Hong Kong Aviation Staff Alliance and Citybus Limited Employee Union, all created during a wave of unionisation that grew out of the anti-government protests which erupted last June in response to a now-withdrawn extradition bill.

The pro-democracy Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions’ will push its 90 affiliated labour unions to cast ballots, according to chairwoman Carol Ng Man-yee.

With that support, if the unions have 60,000 participants by the time the vote is held and 60 per cent approve, the action will go ahead at a time to be decided as a “first phase” response.

On the same day, the Hong Kong Secondary School Students Action Platform, backed by the Demosisto progressive political party, will hold a vote asking pupils whether they want to stage a class strike before summer holidays begin. The group hoped 10,000 students would cast ballots at polling stations and online, said spokesman Isaac Cheng Ka-long.

Students, including Carson Tsang Long-hin of Ideologist (front row, left) and Isaac Cheng of the Hong Kong Secondary Schools Actions Platform (front row, middle) hold a press briefing on the proposed strike. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Hong Kong was hit by a general strike on August 5 last year that sought to pressure the government to withdraw the extradition bill. Protesters blocked roads and occupied malls, snarling traffic across the city and even forcing the cancellation of flights.

In calling for Beijing to abandon the proposed law, councillors from 17 districts said it “destroys ‘one country, two systems’ and pushes Hong Kong’s future into an irrecoverable abyss”.

But the Home Affairs Bureau, which assisted the councils in carrying out their role, said the law was “not an issue at the district level” and officials would not follow up any motions passed at the “unofficial” meeting.

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