Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Hong Kong last Sunday to show their disgust at the WTO.
The colour, diversity and sense of fun that marked the 6,000-strong demonstration will have jarred with many in the city. They have been on the end of a relentless media barrage about violent foreigners coming to cause trouble.
What occurred was peaceful, loud and resilient. There were large groups of farmers from Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka.
Japanese fisherfolk came and were to be joined by a flotilla in the harbour on Tuesday. Students came from as far as the US and masses of migrant workers living in the city turned out.
The Hong Kong City Trade Union mobilsed its membership for the demonstration and there were large contingents from the postal workers’ union and the construction workers’ union—these were joined by international trade union delegations.
The lifeguards’ union provided first aid to the demo. One union organiser told Socialist Worker that he was really happy that the task of educating Hong Kong’s trade unionists about the WTO had gone so well and that so many of the membership had come out.
By far the largest and most colourful groups on the demonstration were those of the migrants, many of whom are domestic helpers who are paid low wages and have few rights in the city.
One in four are either physically or sexually abused by their employers.
The United Filipinos in Hong Kong and the Asian Migrants Coordination Body came out in “I Junked the WTO” T-shirts, while the Indonesian Migrant Workers’ Organisation brought over 1,000 activists carrying a huge inflatable dinosaur.
One of the domestic workers explained how the forcing down of wages in her country due to trade agreements like those being discussed this week meant that there were few jobs and many people were forced to leave to find employment.
Low wages at home meant that employers in Hong Kong could force down wages here as well. She said that a couple of years ago she had decided enough was enough and had started to organise her fellow workers.
Many other migrant workers had wanted to be on the march, but were nervous in case their employers saw them on the television and they got into trouble.
The activists were in a buoyant mood after the protest. Many felt that the carnival-like atmosphere would encourage more Hong Kong people to join Tuesday’s march that was to coincide with the start of the WTO meeting.
With many more international delegations arriving on the Monday of this week, and delegates saying no agreement will be reached, all involved have a sense that this could be a final nail in the WTO’s coffin.
After the failures of Seattle and Cancun, we can make it People 3–Bosses 0.