Despite limited victories, leaders of the declaredly "leaderless" protest movement that has brought hundreds of thousands to the streets in Hong Kong over the past weeks pledge to keep up the pressure. The unpopular bill that sparked the protests and would have allowed extradition to mainland China has now been suspended. But six student unions issued a call to escalate protest actions if the government does not respond to their outstanding demands in the coming days. These include that the extradition bill be formally withdrawn, that all charges be dropped against arrested protesters, and investigations be opened into cases of police brutality. Protesters are also demanding that Chief Executive Carrie Lam step down.
In Episode 34 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg interviews Rose Tang, veteran journalist, activist, artist, musician, and survivor of the Tiananmen Square massacre. In an in-depth oral history, Tang recounts her experiences as a student leader in Beijing in the spring of 1989, her witness to the June 4 repression, and her work as a public voice for Tiananmen Square survivors. Books and works discussed include: Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang (Simon & Schuster 2009); The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited by Louisa Lim (Oxford 2014); "Tiananmen Massacre," Tang's contribution to The Princeton Reader: Contemporary Essays by Writers and Journalists at Princeton University (2010); and Jack London's "Credo." Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.
Turkish police detained at least 100 people who attempted to stage a May Day demonstration in Istanbul's iconic Taksim Square, where protests are traditionally banned. Several thousand more gathered in the city's Bakirkoy district, for a permitted march organized by the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK). In the permitted march was a large Kurdish contingent, led by women wearing white scarves to demand the release of political prisoners. The women were mostly mothers and relatives of followers of the People's Democratic Party (HDP) and People's Democratic Congress (HDK) who have been imprisoned over the course of the current crackdown on political dissent in Turkey. (ANF, Turkish Minute)
Nine leading activists of Hong Kong's 2014 Umbrella Movement have been convicted under colonial-era "public nuisance" laws, concluding one of the city's most politically charged trials in years. The nine may face up to seven years in prison. They include the famous "Occupy Trio"—legal scholar Benny Tai, sociology professor Chan Kin-man and Rev. Chu Yiu-ming. The Umbrella Movement was the biggest pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong's history, during which thousands occupied Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay from September to December of 2014. (HKFP, BBC News) In a sentencing statement, Rev. Chu Yiu-ming said: "[M]y heart tells me that with this defendant's dock, I have found the most honorable pulpit of my ministerial career... We have no regrets... We do not give up " (HKFP)
In the biggest demonstrations since the fall of communism, thousands have repeatedly taken to the streets in Hungary to oppose Prime Minister Viktor Orban''s controversial "slave law." The square outside the parliament building in Budapest was massively occupied Dec. 12 as the law was approved. It was subsequently signed by President Janos Ader. Orban said the law scraps "silly rules," and will help those who want to earn more by working more. He dismissed the opposition to the law as "hysterical shouting" by people "whose lies have no limits." In fact, the law will allow employers to demand workers put in up to 400 extra hours per year of overtime, compared with the current limit of 250. Meanwhile, payment for this overtime may be delayed by up to three years. Local media in Hungary report that Orban pushed through the law in a bid to lure German auto-maker BMW to invest a billion euros in a new plant in Debrecen, Hungary's second city, situated in the poorest region of the country, the northeast. The move is portrayed as intended to undercut labor costs in Slovakia, where BMW was initially considering investment.
The Yellow Vest movement in France scored a victory, as the government of President Emmanuel Macron agreed to suspend a controversial fuel tax after weeks of increasingly violent protests. This may be concretely a win for the working class, but the fact that Macron imposed the tax in the name of reducing carbon emissions has provided fodder for anti-environmental content to the protest movement. Exploiting this moment, Donald Trump blamed the uprising on the Paris climate accord, tweeting: "The Paris Agreement isn't working out so well for Paris. Protests and riots all over France. People do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world countries (that are questionably run), in order to maybe protect the environment. Chanting 'We Want Trump!' Love France."
Nine sugar-cane workers were killed as a group of some 40 gunmen fired on their encampment on lands they were occupying in Negros Occidental province of the central Philippines Oct. 20. Among the fatalities were three women and two minors. The slain were members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers who were occupying part of the sprawling Hacienda Nene near Barangay Bulanon village, outside Sagay City. The occupation was legally permitted under an agrarian reform program established in the 1980s that allows landless rural workers to cultivate fallow lands on large plantations while title transfer is pending. The massacre was reported by survivors who managed to scatter and hide. Some of the bodies were burned by the attackers. "They were strafed by unknown perpetrators while already resting in their respective tents," said Cristina Palabay, head of the rights group Karapatan. Calling the attack "brutal and brazen," she said: "We call on the Commission on Human Rights to conduct an independent and thorough investigation on the massacre. We are one with the kin of the victims in the Sagay massacre in their call for justice."
In Episode 20 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg discusses the forgotten legacy of libertarian socialism—considered by many today a contradiction in terms. While the word "socialism" is suddenly viewed as legitimate in American political discourse again for the first time in generations, the word "libertarian" continues to be associated with the free-market right—despite its origins on the anarchist left. Weinberg discusses his own involvement in New York's Libertarian Book Club—founded by anarchist exiles from Europe in the 1940s, to keep alive their ideals and pass the torch to a new generation. Libertarian socialists seek inspiration in such historical episodes as the Zapatistas in Mexico (1910-19), Makhnovists in Ukraine (1917-21), Spanish anarchists in Catalonia (1936-7), and Zapatistas in Mexico again (1994-date)—peasants and workers who took back the land and the factories, building socialism from below, without commissars or politburos. Other movements inspired by this vision on the world stage today include anarchist-influenced elements of Syria's civil resistance, and the autonomous zone of northern Syria's Rojava Kurds. Weinberg argues that far from being an irrelevant anachronism, a libertarian socialist vision is necessary for human survival. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.