The Present is the Beginning

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The Present is the Beginning

A labour organizer’s letter to the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) from prison.

Leo Tang

On September 1, 2020, Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) organizer Leo Tang was found guilty of “possession of an offensive weapon” in an October 2019 protest against the government’s emergency law and mask ban. Leo was arrested when police found a telescopic stick in his bag and was bailed out at the time. He is currently serving a four-month sentence.

When I first came across the news about the September 6th arrest of a bus driver, I was excited to see that more people were talking about the newly-formed Bus Industry Union. Though this wasn’t enough... to stimulate collective action, we can see the progress this union has made in only one year. The Bus Industry Union, unwittingly, has entered a paradigm shift. The figure of the “angry bus driver” has likewise entered the public consciousness.

Usually, the bus driver’s capacity to struggle is prescribed: people generally think that “if the bus drivers would just do x or y, then the action/struggle would have succeeded.” However, once the bus drivers take action and emerge as activists, they cease to be defined by the public’s imagination. This is precisely what trade unions should aim for. Just imagine: if the “angry bus driver” didn’t simply encounter police violence that day but actively engaged the police during the demonstration, the outcome could’ve been very different.

Revolutionizing the labour movement is not a matter of technique, but a paradigm shift. It is not about how many articles you can write and post on social media, or a question of whether there are a good 20 or so militant activists in your contact list. It is about a total transformation, from political analysis and understanding the current conjuncture all the way to developing new practices.

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