Translation of an article by Ming Pao reporter, LAW KA Ying, published in Ming Pao on May 2, 2021.
Lee Cheuk Yan, General Secretary of HKCTU, was sentenced to 14 months in prison for two cases of unapproved assembly of “8.18” and “8.31” in 2019. This year, he need to missed May Day activities rarely. His wife “Sister Ngor” Tang Yin Ngor [Elizabeth Tang] visited her 96-year-old mother-in-law yesterday. When Mama Lee asked about her son, she laughed and said, “Today is May 1st (yesterday), and he is going to have a parade.” Mama Li nodded, thinking of her son parades on the streets every Labor Day. Sister Ngor said that her mother-in-law was suffering from dementia. She did not know that there was no parade on Labor Day this year, nor Lee Cheuk Yan had already been in jail. Sister Ngor appeared at the HKCTU Street Station yesterday afternoon to give out flyers. Reminding everyone do not forget Lee Cheuk Yan.
64-year-old Sister Ngor is the general secretary of the International Domestic Workers Federation. She met Lee Cheuk Yan at the Christian Industrial Committee in 1982. Since 1983, this pair of labor movement lovers has celebrated May 1st Labor Day together. Recalling the past Labor Day, they were often very busy. Manage the process of parade applications, supplies, vehicles, etc. Lee Cheuk Yan got up at 7 o’clock in that morning and accepted a radio interview. “Labor Day is a day for workers, and it should let workers’ leaders speaking.” Her husband managed the parade, and she organized foreign domestic helpers joined the parade, “HKCTU mobilized all members on Labor Day. The people feel the strength and unite with the workers and others fields. The people know that everyone is not fighting alone.”
However, this year, Lee Cheuk Yan is in the Lai Chi Kok Reception Center. The Labor Day parade was not approved. The radio interview was the director of Food and Health Bureau Chan Siu Chee and the director of Civil Service Bureau Nip Tak Kuen. The foreign domestic helpers were busy queuing for testing COVID-19. Sister Ngor got up and went for a walk in the park. Afterward, she went to visit Lee Cheuk Yan’s mother who suffers from dementia. Lee’s mother asked her son as usual, and Sister Ngor smiled and replied, “Today is May Day, and he has a parade.” Sister Ngor said that she sometimes lied about “(Lee Cheuk Yan) has already come yesterday”, and sometimes said that he was too busy. Mama Lee did not read the news very much, and she would forget it even if she read it. So she still doesn’t know her son is in prison. “It might be a kind of happiness for her.”
Sister Ngor stood silently at the HKCTU Street Station at Kwai Chung Plaza and handed out leaflets at midnight. She was greatly encouraged when passerby received the leaflets. She described this as a reflection of “the heart is not dead.” As for whether she would worry that there will be no May Day parades in the future, she said that the May Day parades have been peaceful since 1983, and there is no reason not to be approved. Yesterday morning, she received a message from a worker saying that she will wait for Lee’s released from prison next year. Even she is carrying crutch or shitting on wheelchair; she has to walk on the streets on Labor Day.
Last Friday, Sister Ngor visited Lee Cheuk Yan. Lee also missed Labor Day and he has wrote the May Day declaration. Therefore, she firmly believes that her husband will be with everyone even if he is not on the street. “I hope everyone will not forget him.” Lee Cheuk Yan was sentenced to imprisonment on April 16, and that day was Friday. She went to work as usual on Monday, because she told herself to live as usual and do what she should do, and at the same time urge everyone to “hold on.” Lee Cheuk Yan will be transferred to Shek Pik Prison this week. May 26 is the wedding anniversary of them. It is Wednesday, and Shek Pik Prison is not allowed to visit on Wednesdays. Sister Ngor did not complain, but smiled helplessly.
Sister Ngor said that she had built up an optimistic attitude from the labor movement. She recalled that the number of May Day demonstrations in the years after the return in 1997 was not large, but the trade union continued to organize, mobilize, and built a solid foundation. In 2005, Korea farmers arrived Hong Kong to launch anti-WTO demonstrations, it has indirectly stimulated the local labor movement. She said: “We understand that labor movement is just like anyone’s destiny. There are good and bad. Don’t be discouraged at the bad time. You have to believe it will change. You can always try your best to do what you can do. When the timing is better, I’m already collapsed; therefore this good timing is still useless.”
Original article by Ming Pao reporter, LAW KA Ying, published in Ming Pao on May 2, 2021.
On International Workers’ Day we will have all sorts of demands in different countries, depending on different situations. But I think what unites us is that we know that working people deserve better. We know that we need to come together to build the economic, political and social power to make the changes needed so that we will never again face a pandemic like this and a crisis like this. So that we will never again see such suffering and hardship on this scale.
We need to ensure that everyone has access to universal free health care and that everyone’s jobs and incomes and livelihoods are protected. We must ensure that there are public goods and services to provide for us. We need to rebuild quality education, quality housing, quality healthcare. And the only way to rebuild that is to ensure there is corporate taxation, capital gains tax – that we tax the rich. We must shift wealth to working people. We must shift wealth to all the public services and public goods that are needed by working people. This must happen.
It’s no longer a policy debate. It’s absolutely a matter of our survival and this pandemic has shown us that.
Links to the video message with subtitles in different languages:
In the face of brutal political repression, our sisters and brothers in Hong Kong and Myanmar cannot mobilize and rally freely on May 1st, 2021, International Workers’ Day. We ask all unions to include their voices and demands in your rallies. Our sisters and brothers cannot be silenced. We will add our voices and demand that democracy and democratic rights are restored in Myanmar and Hong Kong. We will show our relentless determination to defend workers’ freedom and rights in Myanmar and Hong Kong!
Stop Repression in Hong Kong! PDF file 1MB
Click to download JPEG file 1MB
Freedom for All People of Myanmar! 1 PDF File 150KB
click to download JPEG file 1.2MB
Freedom for All People of Myanmar! 2 PDF 135KB
click to download JPEG file 1.1MB
“Red-tagging” in the Philippines is an orchestrated campaign of fear and intimidation that denies workers their fundamental human right to freedom of association. It not only forces workers to give up their right to freely choose their union. It creates the conditions in which employers choose which unions workers can or cannot join. [See Fear in the Philippines. How “red tagging” by the police & military also kills the right to freedom of association ]
Among the thousands of workers facing the direct effects of red-tagging in the Philippines, workers at Coca-Cola Philippines – which is owned and operated by The Coca-Cola Company [TCCC] – face a higher incidence of threats and coercion than other companies in the food and beverage industry.
We should be clear that attacks on independent, democratic trade unions by Coca-Cola management in the Philippines started well before government orchestrated red-tagging. As in Indonesia under Coca-Cola Amatil [CCA], management unfairly terminated the leaders of independent, democratic trade unions to prevent workers exercising their collective bargaining rights. In both Indonesia and the Philippines, Coca-Cola bypasses industrial relations with real unions to deal instead with unions created or controlled by management. Imposing changes – not negotiating change – underpins their failed business model. This failure to respect human rights now converges with a government campaign to dismantle those rights.
In its efforts to undermine the collective bargaining strength of independent unions under the IUF-affiliated FCCU-SENTRO in the Philippines, management colluded with yellow unions to create a new organization called Coca-Cola Beverages Logistics Union [COCBLU]. Workers in several Coca-Cola sales and distribution centres were systematically coerced into joining COCBLU. There were several instances where workers found themselves listed as COCBLU members even though they never joined.
The escalation in red-tagging by the police and military created an opportunity for management to pursue the growth of COCBLU and the eradication of FCCU more aggressively. At the Coca-Cola bottling plants in Davao and Bacolod, local management invited senior police officers to speak at “town hall” meetings (a meeting called in a workplace for all employees). In these meetings the IUF-affiliated FCCU-SENTRO was deliberately misrepresented as being affiliated to the communist union federation linked to the armed insurgency of the of the New People’s Army [NPA]. The President of FCCU – already terminated by the company in May 2020 when he tried to ensure workplace safety in the pandemic – was falsely described as a communist union leader linked to the NPA. End of meeting. Management hoped it was the end of FCCU-SENTRO as an independent, democratic union in their workplace.
Elsewhere police officers directly interfered in the union certification elections to influence workers’ votes. Workers at the Coca-Cola Tagum Distribution Center in Davao del Norte, for example, were visited by police officers who told them not to vote for FCCU-SENTRO-IUF because it supports the armed communist insurgency. The policer officers explicitly instructed workers to vote for the Southeast Mindanao Coca-Cola Beverages Logistics Union [SOMINCOCBLU] instead. Suddenly it is no longer an election in which workers vote for the union they trust will defend their rights and interests. It becomes instead a struggle to overcome uncertainty and fear. Simply voting for FCUU-SENTRO-IUF means facing the risk of red tagging and more police visits. It is no longer a right but a tremendous act of courage.
The question remains as to the extent to which the national management of Coca-Cola Philippines are involved in the use of the police and military to exert pressure on workers to quit FCCU-SENTRO-IUF. Even at local level it is possible that only some elements of management – using their personal links to the security forces and engaging in corruption – are involved. On 3 March 2021, FCCU-SENTRO-IUF wrote to Coca-Cola Philippines management:
“Workers of Coca-Cola in many areas around the country, especially leaders and members of FCCU, are now facing extreme anxiety due to the intimidation and red-tagging of government security personnel. Before things go out of hand, we believe that we should work together to jointly protect the workers of Coca-Cola. In this light, we would like to request an urgent meeting with management.”
There was no response. No meeting. The refusal to even to meet with the union to discuss the safety of Coca-Cola workers suggests serious criminal negligence, if not outright complicity.
In March 2021 the red-tagging of the leaders of Samahang Manggagawa sa Coca-Cola [SAMACOKE-FCCU-SENTRO] and SENTRO organizers in Davao City escalated to a level that posed a serious risk to their lives. In response Senator Risa Hontiveros submitted a resolution to the Senate of the Philippines on March 24, 2021. The resolution cites serious red-tagging incidents, including at Coca-Cola Philippines, and calls for action by the Senate to investigate and seek to legislate against red-tagging. The resolution observes that: “… this State-endorsed practice of red-tagging has given rise to naked impunity on the part of law enforcement agents and has as chilling effect on organizers, trade unions, and the freedom of association guaranteed by the 1987 constitution…..”
When President Duterte called on the police and armed forces to “kill them all” in March 2021, he was referring to anyone suspected of being involved in the armed communist insurgency. Like his war on drugs that cost the lives of anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 people in extra-judicial killings, security forces are again authorized to kill indiscriminately. They do so with the guarantee they will not be held accountable or investigated. They do so with impunity. So far more than 50 trade unionists have been killed.
But “red tagging” has a much wider purpose, creating fear among tens of thousands of workers throughout the Philippines. “Red tagging” involves an accusation that a trade union organization, individual union leaders, organizers or members are directly or indirectly involved in the armed communist insurgency. This accusation is enough for trade union leaders, organizers or members to be detained and questioned by the military and police. It needs no evidence. Just the accusation.
What makes this even more insidious is that these accusations are not made through official, verifiable channels. Anyone from the security forces, police or military, with or without uniforms, in military bases or police stations, or in the street or in workers’ homes, can tag a trade union leader or organizer as “red”. This adds to the uncertainty and heightens the fear.
The multiplier effect occurs when workers hear of these allegations and – out of fear of also being tagged as red – withdraw their support from the union. They change their minds and vote no to forming a union, quit their union, or join another union declared politically acceptable by the armed forces.
This also creates opportunities for employers. Employers can rid their workplaces of trade unions they don’t like. Workers end up joining only those unions deemed politically safe by the security forces and acceptable by employers. In some cases employers have invited the security forces to visit the workplace to instill this fear. [ See Trade unionists at Coca-Cola Philippines are being red-tagged. Why is the company failing to uphold freedom of association?]
Workers are increasingly led to believe (again without any need for evidence) that union dues are being used to finance the armed insurgency. Even if workers don’t believe it (and the vast majority don’t), it doesn’t matter. The risk of possibly being accused is enough: of being dragged off to be interrogated by the security forces, or being questioned by the police or military in your home. It is a visceral threat. Workers feel it.
As a consequence workers in the Philippines can no longer exercise their internationally recognized right to freedom of association. They are not free to form or join trade unions. Any choice they make is determined by the security forces and – in several cases – employers. They are told who they cannot and should not support. They come to understand that choosing a trade union is no longer based on whether that union can defend and advance their rights and interests. It is instead based on the likelihood of being targeted as a supporter of the armed insurgency. It’s no longer about rights, but risks.
At this point national laws guaranteeing the right to freely join a union become redundant. And the internationally recognized human right to form or join a union is no longer a right. It is a risk. Integral to all human rights is the certainty of having that right – of knowing that you and those around you have the right. This is compromised in the climate of fear and anxiety created by “red tagging”. In an environment of such tremendous uncertainty, with unlimited possibilities of severe consequences, workers can no longer be certain they have this right to choose to form or join a union. And instead they may end up choosing not to choose.
Accor’s luxury five star Novotel Yangon Max continues to host events and welcome guests, with occupancy well over 50%, even as military forces follow the order to “annihilate” all protesters and hunt down all those who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement. This includes the arrest and detention of health workers who provided medical treatment for injured protesters.
On its booking portal for Novotel Yangon Max Accor declares that: “All measures are taken for your safety and comfort. Novotel Yangon Max is certified by Myanmar Minister of Health and sports and Minister of Hotels and Tourism. In addition the hotel is ALLSafe validated.”
So as military forces gun down protesters with live ammunition, anyone holding a conference, celebration, marketing event or just staycationing at Novotel Yangon Max is guaranteed to be safe. Also safe are the profits of Accor’s business partner Max Myanmar. The owner of Max Myanmar is a known military crony with close ties to senior military generals.
Meanwhile in its 2020 report to the French government on human rights risks in its business operations overseas Accor neglects to mention any potential issues in Myanmar. Notably the company’s 436 page vigilance plan submitted under France’s Corporate Duty of Vigilance Law* makes no reference at all to human rights risk in Myanmar, despite being fully aware of the military ties of its business partner.
What will Accor’s Vigilance Plan 2021 say about Myanmar? It’s all safe?