Chris Chan’s Year in Reflection

In our latest Year in Reflection, we asked Chris Chan, who is a long-time researcher of Chinese and Hong Kong labour movements, and currently teaches at the School of Business and Management, Royal Holloway, University of London.

Which workers’ struggle in Asia that particularly impressed you in the past year?

I was impressed by the role of Chinese migrant workers played in the anti-zero COVID movement in China. The movement involved people from different social backgrounds, including university students, urban middle class citizens and peasant-migrant workers.

As some analyses pointed out, migrant workers were less articulated and tended to be invisible comparing to students and urban middle class, but their militant actions have forced the government to grant significant concessions.

For example, in the city of Guangzhou, the government lifted Covid restrictions shortly after the clash between migrant workers and the riot police in the evening of 29 November. It reminds us, once again, of the power of workers during a crisis.

What is one labor issue you have worked on that you would like to share?

In the summer, we organised an online Asian Platform Labour Conference. Scholars and activists were invited to present their research and observation on employment conditions, pattern of struggle and prospect of organising in the platform economy.

Labour market has been further informalized and workers have lost limited employment protection under the current wave of digitalization in Asia. Asian platform economy has been dominated by a few global business players and the working- class conditions is very similar in different countries.

This creates an opportunity for workers and labour organisations to exchange experience and build up cross-national solidarity. The conference was ended with a panel from trade unionists from Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

It is important to continue the dialogue and build up new networks to advance the interest of workers.

What about 2023?

Asia today is the new center of capital accumulation and political tension. Economically, some countries and corporations in Asia have caught up well in the fourth industrial revolution and are globally leading in the high-tech sector, while the region remains as the world’s manufacturing center in the labour-intensive industries.

Politically, the rise of Asia has created new tension between the old and new power of global capitalism. As a response to the failed neoliberalism, many countries in Asia are turning to authoritarianism. How to build working class internationalism and a constructive relationship with broader social movement is the new challenge for labour movement in Asia.