Reflecting on Social Movement Unionism in Hong Kong: The Case of the Dockworkers’ Strike in 2013

Chris King Chi Chan, Sophia Shuk Ying Chan, Lynn Tang

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By analysing the 2013 Hong Kong dockworkers’ strike, this article explores how workers, precariously situated in the world’s freest economy, fight for decent wages with the support of civil society. It is argued that the trade union movement in Hong Kong, a Special Administration Region of the People’s Republic of China, is a typical example of social movement unionism. It suggests that the rise of social movement unionism in Hong Kong was a practical strategy of social activists to support labour rights under the specific context of vulnerable structural power, weak institutional power, failed political unionism and a vibrant civil society. Social movement unionism has a “double-edged sword” effect on workers’ power: on the one hand, it has the potential to create societal power and strengthen associational power; on the other hand, it may compromise workers’ militancy and the possibility of stronger workplace bargaining power during workers’ struggle.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54-77
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Contemporary Asia
Issue number1
Early online date28 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • dock workers
  • Hong Kong
  • social movement unionism
  • strikes
  • trade unions

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