Migrant Workers and the Many States of Protest in Hong Kong

Author: Nicole Constable


Migrant domestic workers rarely take part in - let alone organize - public protests in the countries where they work. Public protests are virtually unheard of among migrant domestic workers in Singapore, Taiwan, and Malaysia, and especially in the Middle East and the Gulf States. Over the past decade and a half, however, migrant domestic workers in Hong Kong - mostly Filipinas and Indonesian women - have become highly active, organizing and participating in political protests. Hong Kong's migrant domestic workers protest in a place where they are guest workers and temporary migrants, denied the opportunity of becoming legal citizens or permanent residents. Increasingly, these workers, their grassroots activist organizations, and the nongovernmental organizations with which they are affiliated frame their concerns in terms of global, transnational, and human rights, not merely local migrant worker rights. This article takes the "Consulate Hopping Protest and Hall of Shame Awards" event - part of the anti-World Trade Organization protests in Hong Kong in 2005 - as an ethnographic example of domestic worker protest and as an entrée through which to ask what it is about Hong Kong and about the position of women migrant workers - whose mobility and voice is both a product and a symptom of globalization - that literally permits public protests and shapes their form and content. The article illustrates how migrant workers' protests and activism have been shaped by domestic worker subjectivities, by the dynamics of inter-ethnic worker affiliations, and by the sociohistorical context of Hong Kong as a postcolonial "global city" and a "neoliberal space of exception."

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© Nicole Constable