Hong Kong: New protests demand justice for migrant workers

Solidarity with migrant workers: To achieve justice we must change the whole system!

Dikang, Socialist Action (CWI in Hong Kong)

Hong Kong has seen an impressive wave of street protests by migrant domestic workers, especially from among the 140,000-strong Indonesian community, over the horrific beating and abuse of 23-year old Indonesian domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih. On 19 January around 5,000 domestic workers and their supporters marched to demand justice and an end to draconian laws that severely restrict the freedoms and rights of migrant workers. A new mass protest will take place on Sunday 26 January, marching from Victoria Park to the Indonesian consulate. In a solidarity leaflet for this demo the supporters of Socialist Action (CWI) made the following statement:

• Repeal the ‘live-in’ rule NOW!
• Replace money-grabbing agencies with a public non-profit hiring system
• United struggle against discrimination, racism, capitalism

The case of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih has shaken Hong Kong. The reality of ‘modern day slavery’ in one of Asia’s richest cities has become a focus for the world’s media. The outpouring of support and sympathy for migrant workers has begun to break through the racist divisions fostered by the government and capitalist elite. This could mark a turning point in the struggle for basic workers’ rights and legal protection for migrants in Hong Kong. Because they make up almost 10 percent of Hong Kong’s workforce, a victory for migrants will strengthen the position of all workers!

Photo: Dan Gar
Photo: Dan Gar

Erwiana’s suffering has opened the eyes of the media and big sections of the population to the evils of the current migrant employment system. The government acts like a prison warden in defending harsh rules like the ‘live in’ rule and ‘two week’ rule which seriously limit the freedoms and legal rights of migrants. A recent survey showed 58 percent of Indonesian domestic workers have experienced verbal abuse and almost one in five has experienced physical abuse. In January, two Indonesian domestic workers have fallen to their death while cleaning windows. Few have dared to refuse such risky and unreasonable duties. But Erwiana’s case has led to a change of mood. More and more migrant women are coming forward to report abuse. By showing the power of organised protest action and how this can win widespread sympathy in society, migrant workers have begun to speak out – and people are listening!

The government tries to play down its own criminal role in the Erwiana case as if it is a ‘third party’ onlooker. We are not fooled! Government policies have created the conditions for such abuse. The whole system is to blame and must be changed!

The current migrant employment system is designed to exploit migrants to the maximum as cheap and submissive labour. This suits the interests of the billionaire tycoons who are the real decision-makers in Hong Kong. To defend their billions of dollars in profits, they oppose the building of a modern welfare system – with universal public childcare and elderly care – and prefer to exploit a low-paid migrant workforce to provide these services.

United against racism and discrimination

Socialist Action is part of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), which has fighting socialist organisations and parties in 50 countries from Malaysia to the USA. We have been active in numerous struggles against racism and in defence of workers’ rights. Racism is used by the rulers to cover up their system’s failings. Right-wing Hong Kong politicians attack migrants for being ‘ungrateful’ (right of abode issue) or use them as pawns in international conflicts (Manila bus tragedy) to sow racist divisions within the working class. Yet only united struggle of migrants and native workers can win real change.

Socialist Action fully supports the call to make ‘live-out’ an option allowing domestic workers to live independently. This is an important part of the struggle for regulated working hours. Hong Kong’s apartments are the smallest by average square footage in the world. The government’s insistence on the ‘live in’ rule is tied to its general housing policies favouring the big property tycoons rather than building affordable housing for the people. We also call for the agencies – a major part of the system of abuse – to be scrapped and replaced by a publicly controlled non-profit recruitment system. The choice is between a system built upon abuse and injustice that makes a tiny few rich, or a system democratically controlled in the public interest. Capitalist politicians like the unelected Hong Kong government always put profits first – socialism means the opposite!

Solidarity and struggle

The struggle of migrant workers in Hong Kong is part of a global struggle for women’s rights, and against racist laws which are increasing everywhere. This shows the need to build fighting trade unions that can really stand up to the capitalists and their governments. It shows the need for a working class alternative to the capitalist system – for socialist policies that benefit the majority. Continued protests for migrant workers’ rights can win growing support from ordinary Hong Kong people for overturning today’s unjust laws and practises. Like the slave traders of old, the Hong Kong government can be forced to back down – united working class struggle is the way forward!

Photo: Dan Gar
Photo: Dan Gar