Kyle Bellamy says it’s vital as an internationalist party that Labour demonstrates its support for the protesters in Hong Kong and against the repression of the Chinese state.
“The Labour Party is an internationalist party founded on a vision of solidarity,” proudly proclaimed Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray last year as part of a retort to then-Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s revelation that a Corbyn government would not block a second Scottish independence referendum. McDonnell, for his part, had not long before this authored an article for Tribune magazine entitled, ‘For a Socialist Internationalism.’
That Labour is an internationalist party is self-evident for members and our representatives. In the examples above, it is used to justify approaches to a domestic constitutional issue and global geopolitics. As socialists, we engage in class-based politics and wear the badge of internationalism with pride. This is doubly true for Scottish Labour members who define ourselves against parties espousing both Scottish and British nationalism.
But if we are willing to claim the mantle of internationalism, we must be justified in doing so; putting class before country requires us to react to injustices and oppression no matter where they take place. Sadly, there is no shortage of examples across our blighted planet and attempting to list them simply leaves one in danger of belittling other worthy causes by leaving them out. Labour members may also be reticent about adopting struggles outwith the UK as our own; the last several years have seen our party riven by debates on foreign policy issues.
With this in mind, I will focus on one issue that is uniting our fractious party: Hong Kong.
Since March 2019, the Hong Kong protests have been seared into public consciousness on a weekly or even daily basis by competing scenes of police brutality and the dignity and courage of the protestors, many of them young people. Viewers do not need to have a thorough understanding of the UK’s colonial rule of Hong Kong, the National Security Law or the nature of the Chinese state to understand that the protestors are fighting for something that we in the UK take for granted, at least for now. As UK-based Chinese activist and artist Ai Weiwei stated recently: “In the current struggle in Hong Kong, for example, the theory is simple and the faith is pure.”
Last month, campaign group UK Labour Solidarity with Hong Kong hosted an online rally with speakers including MPs Stephen Kinnock, John McDonnell and Nadia Whittome. It was refreshing for Labour members to see Stephen Kinnock, Keir Starmer’s new Shadow Minister for Asia and the Pacific, not only sharing a platform with McDonnell, but also being praised by him for his work on Hong Kong and against the persecution of the Uyghur people. Also on the panel were campaigning journalist Paul Mason and UK-based Hong Kong socialist activist, Promise Li.
The highlight, for any trade unionists watching, was General Secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, Lee Cheuk Yan speaking from Hong Kong. Lee, who is yet to be charged under the National Security Law, already faces charges of illegal assembly and incitement. The HKCTU organises around 160,000 members and is a key component of the pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong. As a result, the National Security Law specifically targets trade unions and workers rights to organise. It is sobering for trade union activists to hear about the plight of our counterparts and beyond inspiring to know that they continue fighting for what is right, in the face of a massive repressive state apparatus.
What can we do in the short term as Labour members and trade unionists based in the UK? A good starting point is to raise awareness by bringing the campaign’s model motion, available on its website, to your union branch or Constituency Labour Party. The more union branches and CLPs that pass the motion, the more pressure there is on UK union leaderships to speak out in favour of our comrades in Hong Kong.
The right-wing internationally is seizing the initiative when it comes to confronting China and leaving the left on the back foot. To counter their racism and red-baiting, the labour movement needs to articulate a clear internationalist and socialist approach that is supportive of workers struggles in Hong Kong and mainland China and that condemns the brutal treatment of the Uyghur people. This is especially true for the movement in the UK, given our homeland’s past colonial domination of Hong Kong.
Labour members are acutely aware that few political concepts are more divisive than ‘purity,’ especially when it comes to international issues which, while distant, rightly rouse strong emotions. Ai Weiwei is right, however, in calling the Hong Kong struggle pure. It is because of this purity of purpose that MPs and members from across our party are coming together around this issue and, in doing so, are rediscovering our strength as a united movement.
Follow UK Labour Solidarity with Hong Kong on Facebook and Twitter. For more information and to see the model motion, visit the website. All speakers from the campaign’s recent rally can be viewed on YouTube.