Fri, Sep 09, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Let's mend the nation's record on

By Chung Kung-choa 鍾孔炤

Everyone knows that the basic principle of capitalism is profit maximization and cost minimization.

This is why entrepreneurs do everything in their ability to reduce their costs, and "cost down" has become a business mantra.

It has become the law of the marketplace.

But from a social perspective, when individuals push this principle to an extreme, the result is an increase in overall costs to society.

This is especially the case in minimizing labor costs, which is often achieved at the cost of the rights of workers.

Many social developments over the last century have been aimed at limiting the extent to which labor can be exploited by employers in their pursuit of cost minimization.

As a developed, democratic nation, we expect the government to understand the critical importance of such social developments.

But recent riots by Thai laborers working on the Kaohsiung MRT reveal that when government indifference gives employers a free rein, there is nothing they will not do to minimize costs.

Over the last dozen or so years, Taiwan has experienced economic development that has taken society through a process of development that took centuries in the West.

With official approval, businesspeople have brought in foreign labor on a massive scale, making them work in harsh conditions.

At the same time, they have used factory closures to push their costs onto unemployed workers, and then cooperated with Chinese authorities to exploit cheap labor in China. This is all done in the name of reducing costs. But even as they push down production costs, they also oppress workers rights.

To take a longer view, if Taiwan wants to hold its head up in the international community, it will require more than consciousness of a national identity.

The nation's commitment to universal values must also be acknowledged. Our commitment to democracy and human rights is one of our most valuable commodities, and the scandal of the MRT's Thai workers has virtually destroyed the good impression we have made by revealing a tattered labor rights record behind the glossy image we sought to present to the world.

They see that we oppress workers to feed greedy capitalists and corrupt officials.

By taking cost minimization to an extreme, businesspeople have created social upheaval that undermines our democracy.

In this situation, what kind of democracy can we bring to the world? How can we have the confidence to declare that we are a society built on human rights?

After the transfer of political power in 2000, many thought that the culmination of Taiwan's democracy had been achieved.

Having witnessed the riot among the Kaohsiung MRT's Thai workers, we should realize that we have reached a bottleneck in democratic reform, and that democratic values have not permeated down into industry or society in general.

If we do not break through this bottleneck and instead allow unrestrained cost-cutting, then Taiwan's democratic achievements over the past 20 years will be obliterated by the anger of its working class.

There are some costs that we should pay. Only in this way can we stand firm on a foundation of universal values. This is not something that is open to cost minimization.

Chung Kung-choa is president of the Taiwan Confederation of Trade Unions.

Translated by Ian Bartholomew

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