Unionists step up to democracy front lines after ban on Labor Day march

Published (HKT): 2021.05.02 05:08

This weekend, Hong Kong is missing its usual Labor Day march for the second year in a row because of official disapproval. The repeated ban has prompted an organizer of the annual rally to vow to continue the fight for democracy by “stepping up to the front lines.”

The pro-democracy Confederation of Trade Unions, which represents 93 affiliate unions and at least 145,000 members, has had to set up more than 30 street booths across the city this weekend after police shot down its application for the yearly protest affair.

Labor Day traditionally saw unions and activist groups from both sides of the political divide stage demonstrations to call for improved workers’ rights. The ban this year was made on the grounds that the event would “threaten public safety and order,” confederation chief executive Mung Siu-tat said, citing a statement from the police.

So, instead of marching in a procession, confederation members on Saturday wore T-shirts bearing the words “front line” at their street booths, to signify they would take up the baton for the democracy fight from like-minded advocates who were being kept behind bars.

Leo Tang, a member of the confederation’s executive committee, said that while they might not be a group recognized in the public eye for standing at the front lines, they would now have to step up under the “new normal” of bidding farewell to colleagues in the courtroom as China tightened its grip over the city with a sweeping national security law.

The confederation’s general secretary Lee Cheuk-yan and Labor Party member Cyd Ho were last month sentenced respectively to 14 months and eight months in jail for participation in unauthorized assembly in 2019.

Union members handed out cards that read “Never surrender” and “Stick to your guns, don’t get complacent,” and put up photos of previous rallies. At one street booth, at least seven police officers came forward within 10 minutes of it setting up, took down names and started recording footage.

Mung lamented that the ban on assembly under social distancing guidelines had become a political tool for the government to prohibit free speech, deprive people of the right to protest and “use it as they see fit.”

“They [the political regime] have their red line, but we have our bottom line,” Mung said, urging people to speak out and “resist tyranny.”

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