Original: 【這一場革命也許無人取勝，但請你留低一起作見證】, published on HKCTU’s Facebook page.
Author: 小薇, Education officer, ex-officer of the Construction Site Workers General Union, ex-member of Lingnan University Workers Concern Group
Translator: Grilled saury
Editor’s Note: This is the second in our series of translations of short letters and statements from members of HKCTU that were posted on their Facebook page upon the news of their disbandment on September 17, 2021 due to increasing repression and harassment from pro-Beijing media and the Hong Kong government. We share these translations here to preserve the history of the city’s progressive and independent unionism and to honor HKCTU’s decades of organizing and struggle to better the lives of Hong Kong workers.
“Can we not disband the union? It can’t just disappear like that!” This was the phone call I received from a worker that I had gotten to know through street outreach, a few hours after it was announced that CTU had started its dissolution process. I could not think of anything to say, so I stayed silent. Then, finally, I said, “Actually, I’d like to say the same thing. Can the union not be disbanded?”
I don’t share many others’ experiences of joining the labor movement through organizing with HKCTU. In fact, my journey with HKCTU began with my initial refusal to collaborate with it.
On orientation day in my first year in college, there were many different halls and society booths. I ended up going to an isolated corner and took a leaflet from the Lingnan Labor Concern Group about the situation of outsourced workers. At that time, I didn’t look into anything because I spent the first semester of my freshman year on the streets of Mongkok to partake in the Umbrella Movement. Later on, I felt disappointed about the end of the movement, and I was skeptical about its slogan “we will be back.” I wasn’t too optimistic that we could come back. However, I was not willing to allow it to end like that either.
It was still the era when we could join the executive committee of the Student Union, but the Umbrella Movement ushered in an ethos of collective resistance that invited broader civic participation beyond students alone. How did different groups in society link up in the first place though? At the time, I was reminded of that leaflet from the Labor Concern Group I had taken during orientation day, which presented an opportunity for me to branch out.
I remember that not long after I had joined the group, a CTU officer took the initiative to contact us. However, I did not want too much involvement with any “big organization.” Although we students at the time had little understanding of labor issues, we felt that it was important for us to understand the issues through praxis and to avoid relying too much on outdated methods that had limited us. This was why we felt a bit reluctant in the initial involvement of CTU.
We began to try our own way in building connections between students and workers. However, we found out that the connection was only limited to a certain space, and it did not work as intended. The issue of how to expand those connections became a question we had to think about at the time (and even now). At around the same time, we began to realize the importance of connecting other labor organizations and student organizations, and so we formed the Student Labor Action Coalition with student organizations from other institutions that also cared about labor issues. We also started to collaborate with CTU on various labor surveys, labor law classes, negotiations with the school, and so on.
After graduation, I ended up working as an organizer for CTU’s Construction Site Workers General Union. I’d always reminded myself: Do not be limited by any established frameworks; try your best to actualize what you want to do; it’s useless to only discuss theory; action is the most practical. In the three years of work in CTU, I have had numerous intense discussions (to put it nicely) around how to organize a strike, union organizing, participation during campaigns, referendums, and organizing work in the post-National Security Law era.
I don’t really like “big organizations,” and have often felt that I am boxed in by some things. But then I realized that it is not the organization itself that causes those limitations, but rather your willingness to break through those frameworks that you think are inhibiting you. Whether it is with a student group, any organization, or even the world, it is possible for me to do my best in practicing what I believe in regardless of the imposed limitations.
I have not succeeded in achieving particular victories during my four years in college or my three years in the labor union, but I have seen some workers I have gotten to know transform from being afraid to fight for their own rights to taking the initiative to voice their grievances to the company, choosing to sacrifice their own personal interests during the strike period and having all workers join together to fight against the company. The wave of new unions that broke out during the Anti-Extradition Bill Movement; the connection between different industries in the movement; the resistance of unions under the social gathering ban—all these are things that cannot be erased.
But “doing a good job of organizing workers and turning them into a major force of resistance” is a very romantic notion. Even with the examples cited above of successful efforts to transform the political or resistance consciousness of workers, there seems to be more failures than successes. I do not believe in overstating hope, and no one can ever guarantee success in the things that we do. You don’t have to force yourself to be optimistic and remain hopeful, but keep that anger, that unwillingness to accept resignation. What we can control is to hold on to our vision and do what we believe in courageously, no matter how dangerous the situation may be. An organization is fundamentally formed by people with a shared vision. Even if an organization is killed, as long as there are still people who continue to persist, no one will know what possible developments may come.
It is up to the General Assembly to decide whether the CTU can be disbanded or not. But no matter how bad the world becomes, can we all continue to walk together?