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Hong Kong, Ten Years Later

Hong kong working class and union organization: A historical glimpse

Sek Hong Ng and Olivia Ip


This paper attempts to sketch a longitudinal profile on the evolution of a working class in Hong Kong context in light of the thesis of embourgeoisement. The increasing economic affluence in the 1980s and early 1990s appeared to have bred an optimism in society that the members of the working class were converging in life-style and consumption behaviour with the middle class in a process of embourgeoisement. However, the thesis of embourgeoisement comes under question again around the turn of the millennium in the advent of globalisation and the successive waves of recession that afflict Hong Kong. The vicissitudes of capitalistic competition, leading to business restructuring, corporate down-sizing and other austerity prescriptions of labour cost-saving, popularise the practices of flexi-hiring, atypical employment, outsourcing, labour shedding and retrenchment. The upshot of these austerity exercises has been the re-casualisation of the labour market and the emasculation of the employment and income security of a growing fringe of peripheral workers vulnerable to industrial deprivation and exploitation. As a consequence we now see a new industrial proletariat or urban sub-class emerging in post-industrial Hong Kong. Its “embrace” as a hybrid working class transcends a spectrum of blue-collar and service occupations. Because of the diversity in its composition, the prospects for a solidaristic working class to emerge are again remote. And the role of the trade unions in providing an effective leverage for uplifting and protecting their position is limited, as illustrated by the “impasse” now still looming over the proposed enactments to prescribe a minimum wage level and standard work hours.

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Electronic reference

Sek Hong Ng and Olivia Ip, « Hong kong working class and union organization: A historical glimpse », China Perspectives [Online], 2007/2 | 2007, Online since 08 April 2008, connection on 05 July 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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