Hong Kong’s Largest Union Halts Operations Following State-Backed Media Attacks

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HONG KONG, CHINA - APRIL 15: Youth units of Association of Hong Kong Flag-guards carry the Chinese national flag during a ceremony marking the National Security Education Day at the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers Wong Cho Bau Secondary School on April 15, 2021 in Hong Kong, China.(Image: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

Hong Kong’s largest union, The Professional Teachers’ Union (PTU), founded in 1973, seized operations on Tuesday citing “huge pressure” following a series of hit pieces published by the Chinese Communist Party’s state-run media. 

Today, the website dedicated to the union’s operations states, “The PTU has stopped accepting new membership applications for the year 2021-2022 with immediate effect. Members who have submitted applications will be refunded.”

Per the now defunct union’s website, “The PTU is a trade union, a professional body, and a social concern group. Over 100,000 teachers and education practitioners in Hong Kong , from kindergartens to universities, have joined the union, which aims at uniting co-workers, protecting their rights and providing them with various welfare services.”

The PTU was the largest union of a single trade in Hong Kong, claiming in excess of 95,000 members. When active it employed an estimated 200 full-time staff members.

Fung Wai-wah, the president of the PTU, told reporters on Tuesday evening that the decision to shutter the union and seize operations follows “drastic changes in the social and political environment” adding that union leaders “have been attempting by all means to explore ways for the continuation of our services and operation, to no avail” he said. 

“The PTU has been a driving force for the pro-democracy movement in the territory over decades.” Nikkei Asia reported. 

Fung said, in a letter addressed to his members, that the recent social and political changes in Hong Kong were both “deplorable” and “radical” adding that the executive committee unanimously decided on Monday night to dissolve the organization, with the process to begin immediately.  

State-backed media attacks

The decision to dissolve the union comes after The People’s Daily and Xinhua, both state run media organizations, published articles on July 30 and 31 condemning the union. The two mouthpieces for the CCP characterized the union as a “malignant tumor” that needs to be “exterminated.”

Following the publishing of the articles the Hong Kong government formally cut ties with the PTU. 

“In a statement on July 31, the city’s education bureau said it no longer regards the union as a professional education body and would terminate ‘any formal or informal meetings with PTU or its representatives, nor consult it on education-related issues.’” Nikkei Asia reported.

The union was first established in 1973 by Szeto Wah, a then prominent Hong Kong democracy activist and politician as a way to protect the rights of teachers and provide various services to them. In addition to founding the PTU, Szeto was also the founding chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (The Alliance) and a former member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong from 1985 to 1997 and from 1997 to 2004. 

Many attribute the PTU’s involvement with pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong, like The Alliance, as being the catalyst for scrutiny by the CCP. 

As political pressure mounted the PTU sought to distance themselves from The Alliance deciding in June of this year to leave The Alliance as well as other pro-democracy groups such as the Civil Human Rights Front, the organizer of the annual July 1 mass demonstrations in Hong Kong. 

Fung, the PTU’s president, said the decision to dissolve the PTU came in the past few days, as all efforts to ease the immense political pressure had failed and criticisms targeting the union was still “coming from everywhere”, Nikkei Asia reported. 

Since Beijing imposed the National Security Law in July of 2020 more than 30 political and professional groups have disbanded to avoid legal risks. 

“More than 120 opposition leaders and activists have been arrested by [the] new national security police unit. Some 60 have been charged, most of them denied bail.” Agence France-Presse reported.