Strain of epic tussle reduces hardened iron man to tears

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 September, 2007, 12:00am

Ironworkers are more used to shedding sweat than tears. But Man Wong Wai-man, a bar bender for more than 30 years, has twice been reduced to tears during the strike.

'I haven't cried for many years. I first shed tears on August 13 - two days after striking workers blocked traffic in Central - because a labour union told us to either take the deal offered by the contractor or go on strike,' he said.

'I felt betrayed and abandoned by the union. I also felt upset that we lost support from members of the public after causing trouble in Central.'

Mr Wong then volunteered to serve his fellow workers as a marshal to maintain order and make sure there would not be a repeat of such chaos.

When the 50-year-old was overcome by emotion a second time, it was with tears of joy. 'Different organisations, even academics and students, visited us to show their support and even raised funds for us. I felt very touched,' he said.

Support from his wife and two sons studying at university and secondary school also melted the heart of the sentimental bar bender.

'My wife has to cover all household expenses when I am on strike. My sons sometimes stay up late to wait for me to come home, just to say: 'Dad. How's everything? Any progress made? Go to bed early! You have already had a long day'. Unlimited support just warms my heart.'

Having little experience in organising rallies or handling the media, Mr Wong, who did not even finish primary school, has become quite an expert in protests and negotiations over the past 36 days.

'Most workers have very little education, like me. I have really learnt a lot during this labour movement, such as how to answer reporters' questions and how to bargain with contractors.'

It helps that Mr Wong has 10 years' experience in organising community activities.

'I am quite used to having meetings as I have experience hosting visits to elderly homes or entertainment activities at festivals in my community. But most bar benders have little social participation, even in their own neighbourhoods. So I am quite impressed they were able to hang on for more than a month,' he said.

The workers, who hardly socialised among themselves before, have also learned the value of unity.

'We are no longer working as individuals. We are a group and we are united. Whatever comes from the negotiation table does not really matter,' Mr Wong said.

'Unity is the most precious thing that we have won.'