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News :: Organizing
Protests to Greet WTO Ministerial Meeting in Hong Kong
12 Dec 2005
12 Dec 2005 07:41 GMT


No WTO!

The 6th Ministerial Conference of the WTO is scheduled to take place from December 13th through 18th in Hong Kong. Negotiations have been continuing on key controversial issues such as agriculture, services, and market access for industrial goods and natural resources. This ministerial will shape the final agreement of the Doha Development Agenda, which members hope to complete next year.
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Conferences, cultural events, mass mobilizations, and direct actions are being planned for the dates between December 11th and 18th. Organizations that are mobilizing to protest the WTO meeting and corporate globalization, and to present alternative proposals, include peasants and small farmers from the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, Thailand, and Korea. Events: A new media and social transformation conference and workshop will take place in early December. Global Exchange will bring a delegation/reality tour to Hong Kong and parts of China in December.

On Saturday, December 10, three days before the 6th Ministerial World Trade Organization summit, Hong Kong police raided the offices of the Indonesian Migrant Worker's Union (IMWU). Although no one was injured or taken away, activists see the raid as part of a general build-up of state repression on activists.In an interview, Revitriyoso, an Indonesian artist and organizer with Institute for Global Justice, speaks about the raid.

Bay Area organizers Puck Lo and Handle will be posting regular dispatches from Hong Kong to the COMMENTS section below.

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As The Tide Rushes In: Four Days Before the WTO in Hong Kong
12 Dec 2005
In Hong Kong the sixth World Trade Organization Ministerial meeting fast approaches, and preparations are under way. Organizers, trade unionists, farmers, migrant workers, students, and other global justice and community activists from all over Asia and the world are converging in Hong Kong to organize against, derail and shut down the summit. More than 10,000 protesters—mostly from Korea, the Philipines, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Thailand—are expected during the convention from December 13-18.



As The Tide Rushes In: Four Days Before the WTO in Hong Kong
By Puck Lo

In Hong Kong the sixth World Trade Organization Ministerial meeting fast approaches, and preparations are under way. Organizers, trade unionists, farmers, migrant workers, students, and other global justice and community activists from all over Asia and the world are converging in Hong Kong to organize against, derail and shut down the summit. More than 10,000 protesters—mostly from Korea, the Philipines, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Thailand—are expected during the convention from December 13-18.

Before the Wave Breaks

On November 18, while the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum met in Busan, South Korea, 15,000 students, farmers and workers, hurled rocks and fought police in the streets. Some beat riot police with steel pipes and sticks. “No Bush, no WTO, no globalization!” they shouted, toppling barricades while economic leaders fled the scene in limousines. APEC, a forum promoting free trade in the Asian Pacific region, was held in a last-minute attempt to push forward the stagnant Doha trade round for the upcoming WTO summit.

The Doha round of the WTO trade negotiations was initiated during the 2001 Qatar WTO summit. Dubbed as the “development round,” it had broad, highly controversial implications on international agriculture and trade. In 2003 at the Cancun, Mexico WTO meeting, the Doha negotiations crashed and burned amidst a bloc of walk-outs of officials from poor countries. Combined with the escalating level of civil unrest on a global scope to institutions like the WTO, and the suicide of Lee Kyung Hae, a Korean farmer who killed himself at the police barricades outside the last WTO ministerial in Cancun, Mexico in 2003, protesting agricultural policies that he saw responsible for destroying Korean farmers’ livelihoods, opposition to WTO policies reached a new high water mark.

This year, the Hong Kong ministerial was supposed to finalize the global trade deal after these four years of difficult negotiations between members of the WTO. But ministers have so far been unable to resolve the deep divisions, and at this point most everyone expects the Hong Kong meeting to make little headway. Significantly, tariffs on agriculture continue to be among the main issues at stake, with pressure being applied to financially underdeveloped countries of the global South to allow corporations from countries of the global North to flood local markets with manufactured goods and services.

In the tradition of previous ministerial meetings in Cancun (2003) and Seattle (1999), protesters converging in Hong Kong will be aiming to—at the very least—disrupt the meetings, and stall and deadlock the agendas of the richest nations.

Enter The Storm Troopers

Hong Kong police preparations for the WTO meeting have exploded into the largest security operation ever undertaken by the island to this date. Estimates put the cost of the WTO Conference near $32 million. Since early in the year an expected 9,000 police have undergone “special training” in shooting their newly purchased tear gas canisters, thumb-sized beanbags and “non-lethal” rubber bullets from guns as well as learning how to operate other sundry riot gear.

In a stark contrast to the permissive attitude bestowed upon the pro-democracy march last Sunday that swelled with 250,000 participants, Hong Kong government and police officials have consistently characterized WTO protesters as disruptive at best, and a potential terrorist threat at worst. In particular, “anarchists and Korean groups” should be watched, according to security expert Phil Curlewis—whose private company Risk Abate, Limited will be providing protection for the WTO delegates.

The Hong Kong government continues to issue warnings of violent demonstrations, frequently citing the militancy of the Korean peasant and labor unions, as well as the protest suicide of Lee Kyung Hae in Cancun, Mexico in 2003. Schools are being closed in preparation of possible riots, a large section of the city near the conference will be sealed off to the public, prison space (in a “historic” one as well) are being readied for an massive influx of 1,800 plus protesters, and police have been publicly staging drills for chemical and biological attacks. In addition, local media sources have been reporting that the city is fixing the bricks on the pavement around the convention center with extra strong mortar in attempts to preempt their use as projectiles.

As a demographic, Korean activists are being blacklisted by the government in Hong Kong and demonized by the media. Interpol, Hong Kong’s Immigration Department and security consultants, have compiled a list of 300 “key troublemakers” who have not necessarily been charged with any offense. These people are banned from entering Hong Kong. People on the list will be jailed if they resist deportation, the South China Morning Post has reported. Many of those on the list are South Korean. The Hong Kong government has been given photographs of protesters who participated in the APEC demonstrations; it is possible that these people will be targeted first in a crowd here in Hong Kong. Already, one group of Southeast Asian activists have had their hotel reservations canceled after police disclosed their names and passport numbers to hotel staff.

Korean activists—and perhaps more significantly what they represent: militant, direct action—have become easy scapegoats for those who seek to divide opponents to the WTO on perceived issues of the legitimacy of different protest tactics.


The People’s What?

The Hong Kong People’s Alliance (HPKA) describes itself as “a network of grassroots organizations which include trade unions, community labor groups and organizations that represent migrant workers, students, women, church, human rights, research organizations and regional organizations that are based locally in Hong Kong.”

HPKA is the major coordinating body for the WTO protests in Hong Kong. They have also been working closely with the police and government officials throughout. They have, with the police, decided on routes for the three major protest marches, and locations for demonstrations to stand inside of penned areas (out of sight from the actual convention centers) where protest groups can supposedly stage anti-WTO events.

Elizabeth Tang, a spokesperson for HPKA, has said that she understands that police have a job to do in making the WTO meeting a “safe event.” In her words: “If people are not genuine in this and want to use violence, then the police have a right to stop it.''

Tang told reporters that she attended the Seattle WTO demonstrations in 1999 and that the “violent,” “radical actions” of some groups have marred the image of all protesters.

“I'm really afraid that, in December, I'll go out in the street and be beaten up by the police, because some people will spoil the optimism and good mood that is so often associated with Hong Kong marches,'' she continued.

HPKA has appointed “marshals” to keep order during the protests. The marshals are told to isolate any group or person whose actions can be construed as potentially breaking any law or just seeming unruly.

Many activists—both local organizers and those from abroad—absolutely disagree with Tang’s stance. Some express that the position that Tang is taking creates a false dichotomy where “tactics are then either legitimized by the government and completely ineffective in getting across anything beyond a most abstract ‘message,’ or else if they are creative in any way then they are criminalized as being ‘violent’—even if it’s just a situation of people sitting in a road, linking arms. Then those people are left vulnerable to police attack since the others will be told: ‘They’re not legitimate, don’t support them.’”

In an open letter of concern regarding the public statements that HPKA has made in regards to “violent protests,” as well as HPKA’s lack of support for a range of tactics in the upcoming protests, one Hong Kong-born activist wrote:

“HKPA has constantly pledged peaceful demonstration and attacked violent demonstrations with the claim that it plans on following all rules, guidelines and regulations set out by the HK government. How can HKPA legitimate the police force, negotiate and follow all rules set out by the police and the HK government when they are protecting the most illegitimate institutions that feeds on poor people? It is inappropriate for HKPA to monitor the behavior of other demonstrators as is suggested by certain statements that organizers of HKPA have made. So far HKPA have not provided a proper account of what constitutes peaceful demonstration and what constitutes violent demonstration and there is no talk of non-violent direct action.”

HPKA has made no comment on the letter.

Last week the government announced its intentions to build a three-foot wall fencing in the area alongside the harbor to where protesters will be herded.

Members of the Korean Peasants League, a South Korean farmers' group who will be sending a delegation of 2- 3,000 people, have expressed that they will not accept the venue. According to Tang, they also maintained that they would comply with Hong Kong laws.


Beyond the Protest Pens: A New Starting Point for Hong Kong Activism?

“Hong Kong is like the office; China is the factory and warehouse,” one Hong Kong labor activist said in his explanation of the role Hong Kong plays in the global economy. “People here don’t realize how important we are internationally. We don’t realize our own power.”

Local organizers have repeatedly stressed their hopes that the connections and organizing against the WTO meeting next week will be a beginning point for a heightened level of resistance to capitalism and imperialism—both in Asia and globally. Linking in solidarity—critically and strategically—with social movements worldwide will be increasingly crucial in the years to come. With luck, this sense of solidarity will begin here.

Important links!!

* the ONLY direct action Hong Kong anti-WTO site* HYPERLINK "http://www.targetwto.revolt.org"; http://www.targetwto.revolt.org

-South Korean independent media: HYPERLINK "http://www.gomediaction.net"; http://www.gomediaction.net

-Hong Kong independent media: http://inmedia-conf.blogspot.com/
Raids Target Migrant Workers as WTO Summit Nears
12 Dec 2005
On Saturday, December 10, three days before the 6th Ministerial World Trade Organization summit, Hong Kong police raided the offices of the Indonesian Migrant Worker's Union (IMWU). Although no one was injured or taken away, activists see the raid as part of a general build-up of state repression on activists.

Police entered the IMWU offices around 2pm and questioned those present about the numerous bamboo poles that artists were converting into flag poles to be used at an Indonesian cultural celebration scheduled for early Sunday morning. Authorities demanded passports and other identification from those in the office.

“It made us feel insecure,” Revitriyoso, an Indonesian artist and organizer with the Institute for Global Justice, declared. “Maybe tonight, or tomorrow, they will come again.”

Activists characterize the raid as indicative of the vulnerable status of migrants who are crucial to the functioning of the globalized economy. These workers have little or no rights recognized by the state or their employers.

“Clearly this police action is an intimidation tactic to make people think twice about going to the WTO protests. There’s a huge number of migrants expected at the anti-WTO rallies, and the Indonesian Migrant Workers Union have been organizing with Via Campesina and other high profile groups,” Pranjal Tiwari, a local organizer, expressed.

Just two days before the raids on IMWU, three Filipina activists were held in detention after they arrived at the Chek Lap Kok airport. For five hours, they were interrogated about their involvement with the upcoming WTO protest. The three women are leaders of a labor group, a women’s organization and an anti-war group. All three organizations plan to have a significant presence at the WTO protests, with one group bringing 300 of their members. Teodoro Casiño from Bayan Muna believes this was a clear case of harassment by the Hong Kong government for political reasons. Local media has already reported the existence of a “blacklist” of 300 protestors who will be denied entry to the country.

According to Revitriyoso, Indonesian workers represent the most oppressed and also the most organized migrant workforce in Hong Kong. The consulate has been encouraging the employers of migrant workers—who mainly work as low-wage domestic workers—to force migrants to work during the next three Sundays, due to the anti-WTO rallies that are scheduled on those days. Traditionally, Sundays are the only day of the week that domestic workers have free from work. Furthermore, Retriyoso explains, many bosses are using intimidation to keep workers from congregating at Victoria Park, a popular gathering spot for domestic workers.

Revitriyoso describes the ominous message sent to workers by their employers and the state: “If you have rallies, then watch out—if you want to go back home. The way I see it, the [Hong Kong] government and the WTO is not on the Indonesian people’s side. People need to be aware that migrant workers have the right to live and work under good conditions,” he concludes.

Two workers died last week in questionable circumstances, following falls from forty-plus story buildings. In April, another Indonesian domestic worker died after a similar fall. Her employer is suspected. Such deaths are the horrifying extremes of what can be routine abuse of migrant domestic workers by their employers. A survey of more than a thousand Indonesian domestic workers in Hong Kong also found that workers face abuse and poor conditions when obtaining jobs to leave Indonesia, as well as when they return. In Hong Kong, the most serious problem for migrant workers is underpayment. Sumiyatun, a migrant worker from Adipala explains, “For eight months, I never received any salary at all. After that, I began receiving only HKD 2,000 per month.” About 40 percent of migrants in the survey made similar amounts, far below Hong Kong’s minimum wage of HKD 3,270 for domestic work.

On Sunday morning the Indonesian community will hold a vigil for the two workers. Many Indonesian migrant organizations, as well as the Institute for Global Justice, will be holding the "opening cultural ceremony" to kick off the People's Action Week in opposition to the WTO ministerial conference. The thousands of bamboo flagpoles, in addition to an enormous puppet effigy of a multi-tentacled "WTO-saurus," will be key components in the Indonesian cultural "theatre of the oppressed" that Revitriyoso hopes will spread critical consciousness around issues of the effects of globalization on labor. Despite the raid yesterday as well as the increasing fear that migrants live and work under, IMWU will march today.

Perhaps the greatest challenge that the ILMU confronts is fear. Five thousand people were expected at last Sunday’s march, but because of the increasing police and employer pressure, only 3,000 showed. At 2am on Sunday morning at the ILMU office, banners, props and exhausted workers stretch out everywhere on the floor of the office. “Today,” Revitriyoso says with the vitality of conviction—or necessity—“will be the test case.”