Share article

Translated by: S. Chan


Today is the Labour Day. It had never been a statutory holiday before the handover in 1997. It was not until 1998 when the Hong Kong SAR government made May 1st a statutory holiday. 


Labour Day originated as a strike and demonstration in the US. In 1864, the United Workers International, also known as the First International, was founded by Karl Marx and his cohorts at a time when workers worked more than 10 hours a day. Two years later, in 1866, the First International proposed the eight-hour workdays at the Geneva Conference, and decided to launch a mass strike and demonstration in Chicago, USA on May 1st which hundreds of thousands of people protested for better working conditions and eight-hour workdays.


Carrie Lam refused to seal the border for medics.


On May 3rd, Chicago government mobilized police to suppress the demonstration. Police shoot at the crowd and killed four people. On the following day, the unions staged a mass rally at the hay market to protest against “police brutality”. During the rally, bombs were thrown, and police opened fire to disperse the crowd, killing several workers on the spot, while many police officers were also killed by their colleagues during the chaos. The police raided trade union leaders afterwards and a number of socialists and anarchists were sentenced to death, some of whom died of injustice.


In 1889, to commemorate this history of repression, the Second International Founding Congress in Paris passed a resolution which designated May 1 as International Labour Day to continue the struggle for the eight-hour workday. In 1893, the state government erected the Haymarket Martyrs Monument at the cemetery in Forest Park, a Chicago suburb. The U.S. designated Labour Day as the first Monday in September, with some commenting that the government wanted to whitewash the disgraceful history of suppressing worker strikes and demonstrations. The United States did not enact the eight-hour workday until 1935. In 2002, the U.S. Department of the Interior added the Haymarket Martyrs Monument to the National Register of Historic Places.


Looking back at the origin of Labour Day, the author is reminded of the Wuhan pneumonia coming into Hong Kong from the Mainland on January 23rd this year. The government responded slowly to the epidemic. The Hospital Authority staff were angered by the government’s refusal to stop the virus from coming to Hong Kong by closing down the border. As a result, thousands of HA employees launched a strike. Health care workers on the frontline knew best what was happening in public hospitals. They risked their personal futures in the hope of pressuring the government to completely close down the city to prevent the massive influx of Wuhan pneumonia cases from the mainland which might cause a major outbreak in the community and the collapse of the healthcare system. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, desperate to put down the strike, was only willing to close the border for a limited period of time. In the end, the health care workers had no choice but to return to work


Political purges for fighting the epidemic


In the past few months, Hong Kong has done a remarkable job in dealing with Wuhan pneumonia, thanks to our dedicated health care workers who, amid the risk of infection, work treat patients with the disease under tremendous pressure. The majority of Hong Kong people have also heeded the call of health care and experts to wear masks and share anti-epidemic supplies without government intervention. To minimise risk of infection, people stay at home as much as possible and call off meetings and other work activities. Thanks to the self-discipline of the people, economic activities in Hong Kong have not come to a complete halt. As for the SAR Government, the initial response to the epidemic was slow as it refused to close the border for political and publicity reasons, but it still had to announce the closure of the border in late March to avoid a major community outbreak as the virus might pass to Hong Kong from other places.


Our fight against the epidemic underscores the high quality of Hong Kong people and health care workers. In the old days, strikers for eight-hour working days were labelled as socialists and anarchists and faced government repression. Today, protesters against the extradition law amendments and health care workers who went on strike urging for the complete closure of border are facing retaliation. 


I believe most Hong Kong people are against violence and extreme forms of protest, but as we reject violence, we must consider the shortcomings of the system, which breed violence and extreme forms of protest. If one wears politically “tinted” glasses to judge what is right and wrong, neglects his conscience and puts political correctness first, he will end up like those political rogues – those who took wrong stance, misjudged the post-June 4th political situation and condemned those in power for massacring the people – and become the laughing stocks of the others.


PL Lam


Leave a Reply