My Take

Strikers right to put tycoon in the dock

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 April, 2013, 3:14am

Striking dockers have beaten academic Benny Tai Yiu-ting to occupy Central. And they have even picked the perfect symbol of the city's so-called property hegemony - the Cheung Kong Center at 2 Queen's Road Central.

There may be other local tycoons, but no one approaches the influence and prestige of Cheung Kong supremo Li Ka-shing, whose business empire covers most walks of life in the city like the "vampire squid" that has been used to describe the global influence of Goldman Sachs.

In this case, the dockers are fighting for their livelihood and working conditions. Canning Fok Kin-ning, the boss of Hutchison Whampoa - the parent company of port operator Hongkong International Terminals - has likened the strike to the Cultural Revolution, apparently because of the use of banners and posters that depict Li, his paymaster, in rather unflattering cartoons, and a loud protest outside Li's home.

"This [strike] has been using the style of the Cultural Revolution," Fok said.

The comparison is ridiculous and demeans this great historical tragedy of the Chinese people. The dockers are not red guards. They are demanding higher wages in the absence of legal protection that would allow for collective bargaining.

Li and Fok are not victims being made to kneel on broken glass, with dunce caps put on them. They are bosses who are upset because they thought they had created enough distance not to be bothered by such nuisances. But it would be hard for Li to escape the dockers' unwanted attention when he is at the apex of a vast empire of which the dockers are at the bottom. However hard it tries to deny it, HIT has enormous clout over subcontractors who are nominally the dockers' employers, just like many major developers who often hide behind a web of subcontractors.

Fok said he did not believe the dockers' working conditions were that bad and they were "willing to work long hours".

How would he know? When was the last time Fok, who made HK$170 million in 2011, stepped inside a cargo crane inside which an operator works 12- to 24-hour shifts? Fok's response betrays the arrogance of power and wealth whenever they are challenged in this city.