Despite Claims of Progress, Labor and Environmental Violations Continue to Plague Apple

bad apple

by Nicki Lisa Cole and Jenny Chan


 

 

 

 

For many hundreds of thousands of young Chinese toiling on Apple assembly lines, 2014 was not such a good year. Evidence shows that many of the same problems reported to Apple in 2013 continued unabated through 2014. Conditions have in fact worsened at several sites. (Photo: Annette Bernhardt)

Though Apple claims that 2014 was “a year of progress,” reports from labor rights groups and researchers reveal troubling labor and environmental violations continue unabated.

Apple made headlines in late January 2015 when it reported the largest quarterly profit ever in corporate history: $18 billion. A record-breaking $74.6 billion quarterly revenue generated this profit, thanks in large part to the sale of 74.5 million iPhones during the same period.

For Apple, this is a great start to 2015, just as 2014 was a fantastic year for the company. Last year, they sold more than 169 million iPhones(1) which earned them nearly $102 billion in sales. With $183 billion in total 2014 revenue, and $39.5 billion in profit, (2) Apple is the most valuable company in the world.

But for many hundreds of thousands of young Chinese toiling on Apple assembly lines, 2014 was not such a good year. Reports from China Labor Watch (CLW) and Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), and evidence gathered by researchers Jenny Chan, Mark Selden and Pun Ngai detail a litany of labor law violations at numerous factories across China. Troublingly, this evidence shows that many of the same problems reported to Apple in 2013 continued unabated through 2014. Conditions have in fact worsened at several sites.

At these sites, workers logged as much as 15 hours per day, and worked for 10 weeks without a day of rest in advance of the launch of the iPhone 6 in September 2014.

These findings are contrary to claims made by Apple in its latest Supplier Responsibility Progress Report, released February 11, 2015. On its website, Apple refers to 2014 as “a year of progress,” explaining in the report that it conducted 633 audits of 459 suppliers, at which it found 700 violations of the company’s supplier code of conduct. In response, Apple claims to have put corrective action plans in place for all violations, and reports that compliance of suppliers improves with every audit. Yet, Apple provides no evidence of which suppliers were audited, what violations were found where, what specifically the company did about them and whether the problems were actually corrected.

Conversely, reports from CLW, SACOM and Chan and her colleagues provide clear evidence of a lack of corrective action from 2013 to 2014 on both the part of Apple and several of its suppliers, including Pegatron, Jabil, Catcher Electronics and Foxconn. Through undercover investigation on Apple product lines, SACOM and CLW found that violations of Chinese labor law and Apple’s supplier code of conduct are commonplace. These include work hours in excess of daily and weekly limits, managerially and economically forced overtime, workplace safety hazards including locked fire exits and blocked pathways, underpayment or lack of payment of social and medical insurance for dispatch and student workers, lack of special labor protections for student workers, regular intimidation and verbal abuse, inability to take sick leave or resign with pay, and no opportunity for collective bargaining and meaningful address of worker concerns.

SACOM documented these problems at three Pegatron facilities – Maintek Computer, Cotek Electronics and Casetek Computer – all in Suzhou, China. At these sites, workers logged as much as 15 hours per day, and worked for 10 weeks without a day of rest in advance of the launch of the iPhone 6 in September 2014. These workers were responsible for 25 million units of the new device – half of Apple’s 2014 inventory (Foxconn produced the rest). These conditions resulted in workers suffering crippling fatigue and numbness in limbs, fainting from the extreme heat on production lines and passing out from exhaustion during their very brief meal breaks.

Many of the same problems were documented by CLW at Catcher Electronics during a 2014 undercover investigation of a production line for iPad parts. Just as at Pegatron, the many violations of Chinese labor law and Apple’s code of conduct documented by CLW had been previously reported to Apple in 2013. Yet, 16 months later, none of the reported problems had been addressed, and in fact, many more had arisen.

Blocked Fire Exits and Lack of Safety Training, Equipment Endanger Workers

In addition to the problems of excessive daily hours, limited rest, forced overtime and exhaustion documented at Pegatron, CLW also found that there was a lack of safety training and inadequate or lacking protective equipment for workers handling potentially hazardous chemicals, which resulted in workers experiencing eye irritation and itchy, swollen and peeling skin. And, in an eerie echo of the conditions that caused an explosion on an iPad production line at Foxconn in May 2011, resulting in four deaths and injury to 18 others, CLW found that the workshops are thick with flammable aluminum-magnesium alloy dust. They report:

The violations concerning worker health and safety, especially in regard to emergency preparedness, cannot be overstated. Electronics manufacturing, particularly metal cutting as is performed in Catcher, is very chemical intensive and creates significant fire hazards. To address the violations in the Catcher factory, it is imperative that workers receive safety training and protective equipment for handling hazardous substances, and that the factory has controls in place to prevent disasters. Locked safety exits and the failure to conduct fire drills, especially when working with explosive dust (which frequently fills the air), put thousands of workers lives at risk in the case of an emergency. (3)

Unregulated exposure to the chemicals used in producing iPad parts at this facility can cause serious health problems. According to the US Department of Labor’sOccupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines on metalworking fluids, “Skin and airborne exposures to [metalworking fluids] have been implicated in health problems including irritation of the skin, lungs, eyes, nose and throat. Conditions such as dermatitis, acne, asthma, hypersensitivity pneumonitis, irritation of the upper respiratory tract, and a variety of cancers have been associated with exposure to [metalworking fluids].” In addition, those exposed to aluminum dust areat risk of developing problems with their lungs and nervous system.

“Locked safety exits and the failure to conduct fire drills, especially when working with explosive dust (which frequently fills the air), put thousands of workers lives at risk in the case of an emergency.”

CLW reported the same pattern of unaddressed and new problems during 2014 at the US-owned Jabil Circuit factory in Wuxi, China, which produces covers for the iPhone 6. Though employees work as much as 11 hours per day for six or even seven days a week during peak production periods, and accrue as much as 158 overtime hours per month (four times the legal limit), they still do not earn the average local wage in Wuxi. Just as for workers at Pegatron facilities, the low wages they are paid make the excessive overtime a forced condition, as they have no choice but to accept it in order to survive.

Workers at Jabil also reported feeling unsafe, given that some of their workshops were under construction. Ceiling tiles routinely crashed down, and the floors were slippery with oil and dirty water. On being moved to an under-construction production line, one of the undercover workers noted, “Everybody was afraid to work at this place. But even though we were worried about our safety, we did not have a choice.” (4)

Apple did not respond to questions about what, if any, corrective actions it and its suppliers may have taken in response to CLW and SACOM reports of labor violations at Pegatron facilities, Catcher Electronics and Jabil Wuxi during 2013 and 2014.

Problems at Foxconn Persist Despite Years of Media Scrutiny

Meanwhile, at Foxconn facilities, which received quite a bit of media attention following 18 worker suicides in 2010, research conducted by Chan and her colleagues found that the modest gain of slightly raised wages is routinely outweighed by increased production quotas on Apple product lines. They also found that though Foxconn promised to let workers unionize, the unions the company sanctioned are actually designed to increase surveillance of workers, with management-appointed leaders reporting worker dissent back up the chain of command.

In February 2014, Jacky Haynes, senior director of Apple’s supplier responsibility program, said, “We have recently reviewed and strengthened our standards regarding freedom of association.” (5) Yet, as of the publication of this article a year later, union reforms through democratic elections have not happened.

Forced overtime was imposed on Foxconn assembly workers during the peak Apple season (September to December 2014) to the extent of 152 hours of overtime a month, far exceeding the statutory limit in Chinese law of 36 hours.

This and other problems continue at Foxconn facilities, despite Apple’s partnership with the Fair Labor Association (FLA), an industry-created body that Apple paid “well into six figures” for their auditing services during 2012 and 2013. The FLA audited Foxconn facilities on Apple’s behalf and released a series of reports during that time, with a final report in December 2013indicating that Apple and Foxconn had effectively addressed nearly all labor issues found across three facilities in Guanlan, Longhua and Chengdu.

However, Chan and her colleagues found that the FLA’s report on the employment of student interns at Foxconn Chengdu contradicted their own investigation. FLA reported that there were no student interns at Chengdu at the same time that Chan and her colleagues documented 7,000 of them from September 2011 to January 2012 – approximately 10 percent of the labor force – by interviewing the students and their teachers.

Despite Apple’s stipulation that student interns should always be engaged in work that furthers their studies and career goals, Chan and her colleagues, and CLW and SACOM, found that Apple suppliers regularly rely on the forced participation of students who gain no experience relevant to their fields of study on production lines. They simply serve as cheaper, more controllable versions of their slightly older, non-student counterparts.

Further, in February 2015, Beijing-based All-China Federation of Trade Unions legal department head Guo Jun criticized Foxconn for imposing illegal overtime of “more than ten hours every day” on workers. In fact, forced overtime was imposed on Foxconn assembly workers during the peak Apple season (September to December 2014) to the extent of 152 hours of overtime a month, far exceeding the statutory limit in Chinese law of 36 hours.

Apple’s Pricing Policy and Production Schedule Are to Blame

Though Apple displaces responsibility for these conditions onto its suppliers, Chan and her colleagues have soundly documented across a dozen Foxconn sites in China that it is precisely Apple’s pricing structure, intensely demanding production schedule and practice of pitting suppliers like Pegatron and Foxconn against each other that produces the conditions described here.

“Any supplier improving labor conditions will be in a disadvantaged position,” Li Qiang, CLW’s executive director, wrote in an email to Cole. (6)

Apple punished Foxconn for its modest improvement to wages by taking a significant portion of iPhone production away from the company, and rewarded Pegatron for routinely breaking numerous Chinese labor laws with those very contracts over two years’ time.

CLW backs Qiang’s claim with an analysis of the cost of production at Pegatron versus Foxconn, which shows that Apple shifted production to Pegatron facilities after wages were raised at Foxconn’s Longhua site, following the 2010 worker suicides and subsequent protests. CLW found that at Pegatron Shanghai alone Apple saved $61 million in just one year over the cost of labor at Foxconn. (7) The cost savings come directly from lower pay for the hundreds of hours of forced overtime that workers log during peak production periods. (8)

This finding flies in the face of Apple’s oft-repeated claims, in its supplier responsibility reports and in the press, that it takes the harder path of working with suppliers to improve conditions for workers, and that it hands down sanctions to suppliers who are found to be in serious violation of its code of conduct. Essentially doing the opposite of what it claims to do, Apple punished Foxconn for its modest improvement to wages by taking a significant portion of iPhone production away from the company, and rewarded Pegatron for routinely breaking numerous Chinese labor laws with those very contracts over two years’ time.

“Conflict-Free” Yet Loaded With Controversy

2014 also saw continued problems in the mining operations that feed into Apple products. Apple celebrates its involvement in the Conflict-Free Sourcing Initiative (CFSI), run by the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC), but the EICC is an industry-operated body of only corporate members biased toward its clients.

“The EICC’s reputation is not great,” Julian Kirby of London-based Friends of the Earth told Truthout. Describing EICC events he has attended, Kirby said, “[They’re] characterized by defensiveness, a sense of how to manage the problems, and how do you manage the appearance – the PR of the problems, rather than how do we make stuff better.”

Kirby explained that EICC members will tout things like building schools and hospitals in producer communities, “rather than looking at transparency problems and people dying in mines and suppliers,” and working toward “systemic changes.” He concluded, “The tech sector and the EICC, the culture there is years behind other sectors. They’ve got a long way to go.”

Kirby is also critical of the limited focus of the EICC’s CFSI, which, he points out, is limited to conflict in the sense of war. As such, the CFSI overlooks devastating forms of conflict including ecological destruction, destruction of fishing and agriculture industries, pollution of water, injury and death in mines, and forced evictions.

research team lead by Kirby documented all of this in Bangka, Indonesia, in 2012. The report called on Apple to admit that its suppliers source tin from this devastated island, and that it is culpable in the atrocities documented there. After much pressure from Friends of the Earth, Apple did admit this a year later, and spearheaded the Tin Working Group to assess and address the problems found by Friends of the Earth.

Kirby gives Apple credit for creating this group, but points out that, nearly three years later, nothing has changed for the residents of Bangka, who live on what he describes as a depleted “moonscape” surrounded by a dead coral reef, and where on average one miner dies per week in an accident. Rather than scaling back their destruction of this island community, Kirby reports that the large mining operators are now ramping up their offshore efforts, which will only further pollute the once pristine water and continue to destroy fisheries.

Change Will Follow Real Transparency and Collaboration With Labor Rights Groups

All of this evidence suggests that Apple’s internally managed model of corporate social responsibility does not work. The company’s slick publications, and claims in the press and on its website contribute to the value and power of its $118 billion brand, but do not foster systemic change in its troubled supply chain. That change will only come with real transparency in terms of how the company’s products are made, how specifically Apple works with suppliers to fix problems and the results of those efforts.

Real change could come if Apple stuck by those suppliers that make improvements, as it claims to, rather than shoving them aside to cut costs. As CLW points out, raising wages for workers at Pegatron facilities to make them equivalent to the average local wage would compromise just 10 percent of Apple’s quarterly profit. (9)

Further, SACOM and CLW urge Apple to make good on its promise to support worker unionization by providing labor rights training via independent labor rights groups, which could ensure effective workplace monitoring. At the least, companies such as Apple and Foxconn – the world’s largest electronics manufacturer – should observe national labor laws and regulations.

With the kind of financial power the tech giant has – earning on average three-fifths of the profits in this sector in 2014 – Apple really could make things better in this industry, and it has a responsibility to do so. (10)

Footnotes:

  1. See p. 30 in Apple’s Form 10-K filed with the SEC on October 27, 2014.
  2. Ibid. p. 48
  3. See p. 7-8 in “Two Year’s of Broken Promises” by CLW, September 4, 2014.
  4. See p. 13 in “iExploitation” by CLW, September 25, 2014.
  5. Email communique to Chan, Selden, and Pun, February 18, 2014.
  6. Email communique to Cole, February 11, 2015.
  7. See p. 2 in “Analyzing Labor Conditions of Pegatron and Foxconn,” by CLW, February 2015.
  8. Ibid. p. 8
  9. Ibid. p. 23.
  10. Ibid. p. 25.

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission

http://truth-out.org/news/item/29180-despite-claims-of-progress-labor-violations-and-environmental-atrocities-continue-to-plague-apple-s-supply-chain

JENNY CHAN

Jenny Chan (Ph.D. in 2014) is a lecturer in sociology at the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, University of Oxford. Educated at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of Hong Kong, she was a Reid Research Scholar while pursuing her doctorate at the University of London. With Ngai Pun and Mark Selden as co-authors, she is writing her first book, provisionally titled Dying for an iPhone. Contact her at jenny.chan@area.ox.ac.ukand wlchan_cuhk@yahoo.com.

NICKI LISA COLE

Nicki Lisa Cole, Ph.D. is a research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies on Science, Technology and Society in Graz, Austria. A sociologist with expertise in global capitalism and consumerism, she is currently writing a book about the popularity and hidden costs of Apple products. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and find more of her writing here. Contact her at nickilcole@gmail.com.

(See also Talking Union article on ACFTU and Foxconn )
 

Will the ACFTU Organize a Union at Foxconn?

by Paul Garver

apple_cook_china

Apple CEO Tim Cook visits an iPhone production line at a Foxconn facility in China in 2012.  Photo: Bloomberg

Officials of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) are not in the habit of criticizing major employers.

So when at a press conference in Beijing on February 2nd, Guo Jun, director of the ACFTU’s Legal Work Department, included Foxconn Technology in a list of companies who required their employees to work excessive overtime in violation of Chinese labor law, it caused a stir in the Chinese and foreign media.

Foxconn is not a mom-and-pop company.  It is the largest electronics manufacturer in the world, the largest private employer in China with 1.3 million workers, and ranks 30th on the Fortune listing of global companies by sales.   It produces over half of the electronic hardware in the world for Apple, HP and all the other major global branded electronics corporations.

Five years ago, as we frequently reported in Talking Union, a dozen young workers at Foxconn’s  giant assembly plant in Shenzhen ended their lives by leaping from the factory complex dormitories, protesting endless hours of mind-numbing repetitive toil.  Pro-worker NGOs in Hong Kong and China leapt into action, documenting widespread abuses at Foxconn, and demanding that Apple, its largest customer, hold its supplier to improving wages and working conditions.  They also pointed out that the chronic abuses at the chief supplier are a product of Apple’s squeezes and unethical buying practices, and the Chinese governments’ support to large investors, at the sacrifice of workers’ rights and even their lives. As protests spread, both in Greater China and elsewhere, Apple agreed to require inspections of three Foxconn factories (out of more than 30) in China by the Fair Labor Association(FLA) in 2012 and 2013.

More significantly Foxconn decided to locate its major new factories deeper in the interior of China where wages were lower and the supply of laborers closer to hand.  Another huge factory complex was constructed in less than a year in Chengdu (capital of Sichuan province), informally called iPad City for its major product.  When several workers were killed by an explosion of aluminum dust caused by management negligence on 20 May 2011, security officers rushed to the hospitals to prevent any protests or media coverage.  But vigilant networks of Chinese and Hong Kong students and workers publicized the event and a similar explosion at another Shanghai-based Apple supplier seven months later.

The Fair Labor Association (FLA), no doubt in good faith (though well compensated for their efforts by Apple) has reported that Foxconn and Apple are in the process of drawing up an action plan to correct the most flagrant abuses at three major Foxconn factories, including ones in Shenzhen and Chengdu.  The final FLA report was completed and published online in December 2013 – it did not end serious violations such as illegal overtime; in other words, it does not go beyond good public relations for Apple. As of this writing on 10 February 2015, we were still waiting for Apple’s Supplier Responsibility Progress Report.

Unfortunately for Apple, Foxconn and the FLA a growing network of worker and student activists within China has been investigating in depth a much wider range of Foxconn facilities throughout China, and finding that excessive overtime and serious health and safety violations remain endemic.  One item completely overlooked by FLA investigators was the wholesale exploitation of some 7000 “student interns” for repetitive assembly work at Chengdu, when a major order from Apple had to be quickly filled in late 2011 to early 2012 [ Aditya Charabotty, 14 October 2013, “Forced student labor is central to the Chinese economic miracle,” The Guardian]. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/oct/14/forced-student-labour-china-apple

Beginning in the fall of 2014, Apple sales of the new iPhone 6 and iPhone6Plus surged, to reach some 74.5 million in the last quarter of 2014.  Even though Foxconn is itself a highly integrated and diversified electronics manufacturer, it remains heavily dependent on Apple (for 40% of its total sales).  When Apple demanded maximum production of the new iPhones at maximum speed, Foxconn responded. According to extensive reports by Shenzhen worker and student activists (on a site called in English iLabour) mandatory overtime was imposed on Foxconn assembly workers during the peak Apple season (September to December 2014) to the extent of 152 hours overtime a month on top of the standard 40 hour work week (plus 9 hours of overtime whenever appropriate).    This meant on average one rest day a month (whereas at last one day of rest per week is required by law), with every other day of the month dedicated to 10 hour shifts of the most routine and monotonous assembly tasks.  This far exceeds the statutory limit in Chinese law of 36 hours overtime per month.

Hence the comment by the ACFTU’s  Guo Jun, who reminded Foxconn that employees forced to work excessive overtime were susceptible to psychological problems including suicide, a deliberate echo of the 2010 suicide wave.

Foxconn responded angrily on February 3rd that the workers wanted the overtime to increase their income, and that the company provided professional counseling and support services 24/7 to help workers cope with these challenges.  The company claimed that these support services “are saving lives each and every day” (!).  It also taunted Guo Jun for never visiting the Foxconn factories criticized by the ACFTU.

A number of activists commented that it would not be a bad idea for the ACFTU official to actually visit factories and talk to workers.   What Guo Jun would find is that there is already a “union” at Foxconn, though no workers know that they are members of it.  The chair of the Foxconn union, since 2007 to the present, is Ms Chen Peng, a special assistant to Foxconn CEO Terry Gou.  She was appointed as Union Chair by Foxconn managerial appointment, with no election then or since.

Quoted in the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), Chang Kai, a highly respected professor at Renmin University’s labor and human resources school in Beijing, remarked:

“It’s a good thing that the ACFTU showed their attitude, but it’s just the first step.  Next, the union should suggest solutions. Foxconn doesn’t have a union chosen by workers at all.”

Five years on, will the ACFTU take the next step, and try to organize a real union at Foxconn?

I have made use over the last five years of extensive research conducted by SACOM (Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior), a Hong Kong based NGO, in reporting on Foxconn workers in Talking Union.   As background for this article, I was graciously granted access to research by Jenny Chan, Pun Ngai and Mark Selden to be published in  2015 as “Apple’s iPad City: Subcontracting the Exploitation of Labour to China.” Ch. 5 in Handbook on the International Political Economy of Global Production, edited by Kees Van Der Pijl. [Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing].

Growing Trade Deficit with China Costs 3.2 Million U.S. Jobs

English: USA deficit, China surplus, 2000-2014...

English: USA deficit, China surplus, 2000-2014, World Economic Outlook, IMF (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

December , 2014

Growth in the U.S. goods trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2013 eliminated or displaced 3.2 million U.S. jobs, according to China Trade, Outsourcing and Jobs, a new study from EPI Director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Research Robert E. Scott and research assistant Will Kimball. Trade with China has caused job loss in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, including all but one congressional district. About two-thirds of jobs lost, or 2.4 million, were in manufacturing.

“Growing trade deficits with China have hurt American workers and decimated U.S. manufacturing,” said Scott. “If policymakers are serious about supporting manufacturing jobs, we must work to put an end to China’s unfair trade policies.”

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Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions Condemns Violent Attacks on Occupy Movement Protesters

HKCTU News Release

October 3, 2014

Chief Executive CY Leung promised to appoint the Chief Secretary for Administration and the political reform trio to have a dialogue with the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS), yet allowed thugs to attack the protesters the very next day. This is no different from suppressing citizens who strive for democracy. On October 3, the peaceful protesters were attacked with violence, but the police did not enforce the law though witnessing the thugs hurting the civilians. This is literally giving support to brutality, murdering the freedom of assembly and freedom of speech of Hong Kong people. HKCTU is in extreme anger and hereby strongly condemns the police for tolerating violence and being negligent towards their duty. We strongly demand that the police arrest and prosecute the thugs.

Today, there were a large number of people of unknown background gathered at the Mong Kok occupy area. It is believed that over a thousand members from organizations like “Caring Hong Kong Power” and “Voice of Loving Hong Kong” screamed, cursed at and attacked the protesters at the scene. At that time very few police were there to support, nor did they stop the attacks. Many unarmed students, workers and citizens were hurt by the thugs. There was even a female student being sexually assaulted and the materials of the protesters got destroyed maliciously.

As the working class, while striving for democracy, we also believe in engaging in civil disobedience in a loving and peaceful manner. We hereby appeal to all Hong Kong citizens and the international society to:

1) support the students, workers and citizens in the Occupy Movement
2) urge CY Leung to stop using violence and tolerating violence to suppress the peaceful protesters, and to uphold the freedom of assembly and speech of Hong Kong
3) urge the police to instantly investigate the thugs who were organized to attack the protesters and give an explanation to the public
4) urge the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to withdraw the fake universal suffrage proposal, and the Hong Kong Government to re-launch the consultation on political reform and implement a genuine universal suffrage

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions includes affiliates with about 170,000 members in Hong Kong.

10 things you need to know about the protests in Hong Kong

Originally posted on rs21:

The pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong continue. Demonstrators have set a deadline of midnight tonight for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive to resign. German revolutionary magazine Marx21 interviewed Sophia Chan from Left21, Hong Kong about the background to and prospects for the mass protests taking place. The interview in available in German here

Leung Ching Yau Alex/ficker.com Leung Ching Yau Alex/ficker.com

1. When did the protests start and why? What was the turning that meant people started to demonstrate?

The protest was actually a result of a long battle for democracy. When the British handed Hong Kong back over to China in 1997, the Chinese government promised both in the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the mini constitution of Hong Kong (the Basic Law) that a democratic system eventually would be implemented in Hong Kong. After decades of delay and making excuses, in August this year the National People’s Congress of the PRC declared that the so-called democracy…

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Thugs Attack Peaceful Supporters of Democratic Movement in Hong Kong

by Paul Garver

HK thugs - Copy

Triad thugs, perhaps hired by the Hong Kong government and certainly condoned by the police, are unleashing a wave of savage attacks against peaceful supporters of the Hong Kong protests at their support centers in several districts of Hong Kong. This tactic, reminiscent of the worst abuses of the Egyptian government two years ago, destroys the very basis of law, civil liberties and democracy. such lawless brutality has not been seen in Hong Kong in many decades.

Follow minute by minute developments at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Calling-for-international-support-for-democracy-in-Hong-Kong/275123362684837?ref=hl.

We will update with suggestions about how we can respond.

Which Way for the Democratic Movement in Hong Kong?

by Au Loong Yu

  • Hong Kong poster

I. The Current Situation
The general public has come out to support the students, and with their own bodies have resisted the tear gas to defeat the offensive of the regime of C.Y. Leung, the Chief Executive of the Executive Council of Hong-Kong, sparking a new generation of people’s democracy activists.

This movement has the following characteristics:
1. The students and the public have shown that they have the ability to think for themselves, to take bottom-up direct action, without relying on the leaders. It is within a context where the movement displays deep distrust of not only the Pan-Democracy parties, but also of the Trio of three leading liberal academics and clergymen who suggested the occupation a year earlier. Even the Hong-Kong Federation of Students, which was for a while the vanguard of the movement, saw its proposal to withdraw on September 28 in view of escalation of crackdown was rejected by the masses.
2. The students and young people, whose actions have led to the upsurge in the movement, are now the driving force of the movement, rather than the middle-aged and middle-class Pan-Democracy supporters whom the Trio relied on as their constituency for their occupation plan, a fact which reflects the deep distrust towards young people and working people toward the Trio.
3. The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) has called for a workers’ strike and there are some responses; in addition to this there is strong sympathy for the movement among working people. And the occupation of main streets also makes possible a slowdown in workplaces, which in turn allows lots of discussion among colleagues.
4. A desire for social equality has also become part of the movement. In his speech to the student boycott on September 22, student leader Alex Chow already mentioned the issue of economic inequality. A few days ago twenty-five trade unions and civil society groups also issued a joint statement not only demanding genuine universal suffrage but also regulations on working hours and a universal pension. The occupation of the last two days has also given the general public the chance to discuss their opinions, and amongst these one frequently hears discussions of the extreme inequality.
Because of this strong movement from below the C.Y. Leung government has now been forced to stop its offensive, permitting space for the movement to grow even larger. The issue now is how to take advantage of the situation fully and to seek the biggest victory.

It means that we have to overcome the movement’s weaknesses:
1. The old democracy movement’s former leaders are no longer able to lead, however the new leaderships of the new democracy movement is still in formation. This is a danger. Although spontaneity has been a great factor in advancing the movement, now—with all the sabotage taking place and a crackdown quite possible sometime in the future by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Leung government—the movement will soon require more organising and leaderships, and I use plural here deliberately.
2. Although the students’ organization is comparatively better, the general public lacks the organization and networks to support each other. This is especially so for the strike call. Although there were some early responses to the strike call, a broad strike wave has yet to happen. The HKCTU is not yet strong enough to fully implement the strike call, let alone to organize the solidarity alliance now in preparation. Strengthening movement will require great effort and also new initiatives
II. Aims and slogans
1. The Leung Chun-ying regime must surrender Civic Plaza and Tamar Garden to the people and to withdraw all police from there, so that these two places can be a focal point for the movement. If the government does not promise this then the movement should certainly not withdraw from the streets, and, if they do promise, then the decision to withdraw or stay on will depend on the circumstances and the wishes of the people.
2. The Leung Chun-ying regime and its officials must apologise.
3. The Leung Chun-ying regime must step down.
4. The National People’s Congress (NPC) resolution must be withdrawn; genuine universal suffrage and civic nominations must be implemented.
5. Regulations on working hours, a universal pension and collective bargaining rights must be implemented.
6. We must win regime change and the self-determination over political reform.

3. The Way Forward
1. Working people need more encouragement to strike. One way is to encourage each company or unit to organise and set up a small group for solidarity with the movement and to establish a strike committee. Only with this foundation, is it possible to discuss the issue seriously.
Slogan: Students and workers unite together to achieve regime change. For self-determination over political reform!
2. Adhere to nonviolence.
3. Proposing self-determination over political reform is appropriate. However if anyone proposes Hong Kong independence then we (the democratic left/progressives) can respond that we cannot agree to this, although we respect the right to express this opinion. Also it is an issue worthy of discussion later, but not for now, or it may be harmful to the movement.

Updated on the early morning of 30th September
Last night when I went to the scene, I found that the movement had again expanded in scale and it was very moving. However this also increases the risk of direct intervention by the CCP—although this does not necessarily mean dispatching the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) from the outset. Nevertheless it is necessary to avoid provocations and excesses. In the case of escalation of the crackdown from tear gas to shooting—or even worse the mobilization of the PLA—there is no way we can fight that, given the present level of organisation.Therefore we should retreat from the streets when this moment comes, but keep the strike going – no one can force working people to work normally even with guns. In addition to this we will need a deepening of the non-cooperation movement in all areas.

________________________________________
* Au Loong Yu is a Hong Kong activist. He is currently editor of China Labor Net. This essay is reposted from New Politics with the permission of the author.

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