Connect Canadian Labour Movement: From Anti-totalitarism to Counter Far-right Extremism

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Christopher Mung, Executive Director, HKLRM 

In May, I attended the 30th Constitutional Convention of the Canadian Labour Congress in Montreal as well as the in the international forum the evening before the convention. In the forum, together with speakers from Haiti and Mexico, we shared our views on the political challenges posed to independent labour movements in three places. 

I mentioned, in my speech, particularly two of my comrades in the HKCTU, the former chairperson, Carol NG Man-yee and the former General Secretary, Lee Cheuk-yan. In 2017, they attended the last convention of the Canadian Labour Congress’ in Toronto. Right now, they are both imprisoned, facing political prosecutions. Being a former HKCTU member in exile, I feel more duty-bound to speak the truth at the forum as trade unionists in Hong Kong are unable to do so.  

Before the forum was over, the host asked me to review the most significant lesson from Hong Kong’s experience. My answer was: “Without democracy, the freedom we once enjoyed was gone overnight.” The law supposed to guarantee the fundamental rights that Hong Kong people had always taken for granted, including freedom of speech and freedom of association. However, such rights have eventually dissipated since the implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong. I added that the “democracy” I meant does not only refer to the election or the voting system as the regime can also make abrupt changes in them. The most important things are always the continuing involvement of the people and the power from self-organised checks and balances.  

In fact, threats to freedom are not limited to authoritarian countries. In Canada, far-right extremism has emerged in recent years, inciting discrimination and assault on ethnic minorities, transgender people, indigenous people, feminists, etc. It has become a matter of grave concern to local trade unions. As I stated at the forum, the scale of the battle against totalitarianism is extensive. Not only is the fate of the people living in totalitarian countries involved, but it also is a battle of the people in the free world against social regression.  

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the far-right extremists have accelerated the spread of discrimination and fear in Canada. They blamed the Chinese community for creating the virus and advocated exclusion, leading to attacks on Asians in the neighbourhood. Therefore, while I was visiting Canada, similar questions were addressed in the discussion on various occasions. With the society exposed to the rising anti-China sentiment created by the far-right, how can we avoid being used by the extremists in this complex situation when we are opposing China’s totalitarianism? I think their worries are neither superfluous nor unfounded. 

First and foremost, we must recognise that totalitarian and far-right extremism both threaten the equality, human rights and freedom that we treasure. They are not two individual battles, but the same one. Being the progressive force in society, trade unionists must not avoid our own battlefield. If we do not want far-right extremism to predominate the mainstream discourse, we should develop even stronger anti-totalitarian discourse and enhance our capacity in organizing so that we can wrestle with the conservative discourse formed by the far-right extremists based on exclusion and discrimination.

In the Western world, the expansion in the power of the far-right political parties does not only exist in individual regions, but is gradually sweeping the entire West. Having realised the severity of the problem, trade unions in different countries have joined forces with the people in totalitarian countries to fight for democracy. The International Network of Anti-Fascist Trade Union was formally formed and issued a joint declaration in March this year. 

It’s high time we reflected on how to respond and fight back! 

Christopher Mung (L) and Bea Bruske (R), President of the Canadian Labour Congress

During this trip I also visited the the Toronto & York Region Labour Council and UniFor in Toronto. It was a fruitful trip to Canada and I appreciate everyone’s assistance in making this trip possible, as well as your solidarity to the trade unionists imprisoned in Hong Kong.

Solidarity action from UniFor

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