Continue on this rocky path: A note on ITUC World Congress in Melbourne 

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Christopher Mung, Executive Director of HKLRM

I joined the ITUC World Congress from 17 to 22 November in Melbourne. It took me around 24 hours to make my way there from London with one stopover. It is said to be one of the world’s longest flights.  

This was the first time I attended the ITUC World Congress after the HKCTU disbanded. This time, I was wearing a different hat, joining as an observer representing the Hong Kong Labour Rights Monitor. 

I was overwhelmed by emotions whenever I thought about the organisation I used to represent, as it no longer exists, not to mention the people with whom I used to go there. Lee Cheuk Yan and Carol Ng are now locked behind bars. 

But I reminded myself that the journey has to go on, despite all the emotions in my head. This World Congress only happens every four years, with 1,000 trade union representatives from 130 countries. It would be a rare opportunity to raise awareness and seek support for Hong Kong. When I realised the 3-minute speech registration was open, I knew I had to obtain a spot and appeal to the other trade union representatives for their support. (Click here for the full speech.)

In the opening speech of the Congress, the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Michele O’Neil, remarked on the plight of trade unionists behind bars in Hong Kong, Myanmar, and Belarus. The whole hall applauded the honourable mentions.  

An emergency resolution endorsed to support Hong Kong 

We connected with and lobbied 13 national trade union confederations to table an urgent resolution entitled “concern about the suppression of the trade union movement and democracy in Hong Kong”. The resolution was passed just in time before the Congress concluded.  

A special session dedicated to Lee Cheuk-yan 

This year’s conference included a special session. The ITUC’s General Secretary Sharan Burron announced that Lee Cheuk Yan, the former general secretary of the now-defunct ITUC, was awarded the Silver Rose Lifetime Achievement Award by SOLIDAR in recognition of his contributions to the Hong Kong labour movement and the development of Hong Kong civil society. Then, a short video highlight of his work was shown. The video brought back memories of fighting for labour rights with Yan. It was an emotional and bittersweet video to watch.  

Meetings with trade unions from South Korea to Norway and Argentina 

In the few days of the Congress, we met with trade union representatives from South Korea, France, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Brazil, and Argentina. We explained the latest developments in the Hong Kong labour rights movement and discussed our potential collaborations in the future.  

For example, during our talks with the French delegation from the three largest trade unions in France, CFDT, CGT and FO, we explored the possibility of convening a Hong Kong round table event next year to raise awareness of the Hong Kong Labour Rights issues among the people in France. If we could make it happen, it would be a huge breakthrough in our advocacy efforts. 

Sharing workshop: Trade unionists in exile from Hong Kong, Myanmar, and Belarus 

This year’s conference provided attendees with a variety of sessions to select from. In the workshop “A Dialogue with Trade Unionists in Exile”, I shared my experiences with two other trade unionists from Myanmar and Belarus. The challenges confronting the independent labour movement may not be the same in the three places, but we all face devastation under authoritarian regimes. 

ITUC World Congress Workshop: Dialogue with Exiled Trade Unionists from Myanmar, Hong Kong and Belaruse

In our workshop, we spoke about ways to strengthen solidarity with trade unions in authoritarian countries. We have collated ideas, such as marking a global action day to demonstrate international solidarity, lobbying governments to exert political pressure on authoritarian regimes, and establishing a transnational monitoring network. Some of these suggestions are still in the early stages, but this brainstorming session widened my vision of global solidarity and convinced me that there is still plenty we can accomplish. What struck me the most was that we were not just paying lip service to the idea. All of the attendees were ready to put their words into action. 

“What keeps you going?” one of the participants asked us, trade unionists in exile. And this was how Lizaveta from Belarus replied: “What keeps me going is I am free and my closest colleagues are in prison. So I can do something—and I will.”  

For most of us living in exile, this simple yet powerful answer says it all. 

What keeps me going is I am free and my closest colleagues are in prison. So I can do something—and I will.

Lizaveta, Labour Activitist from Belarus

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