Sat, Jan 07, 2012 - Page 8 News List

Time for workers to make their demands

By Lai Hsiang-Ling 賴香伶

People First Party (PFP) Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) seems to have decided to follow through on his presidential bid to the bitter end. As a result, the Hakka vote in Taoyuan, Hsinchu and Miaoli counties has become a crucial indicator of the election outcome.

All three presidential candidates are trying to win voters’ sympathies by speaking Hakka and making election promises about the tourism and cultural industries. There have even been emotional, ethnically tinged calls for “a female Hakka president.” What all this really signifies is that cities in Taiwan’s mountain regions have been excluded from, and fallen behind, when it comes to the distribution of regional cultural and political resources.

Does the displacement or division of Hakka voters really mean that the Hakka as a group have obtained appropriate political status? No.

Because the Hakka still have a particular political status in Taiwan, they, just like workers, are described as “disadvantaged.” However, the difference between these groups is that Hakka have been labeled a “hard-working, thrifty and stubborn” people who refuse to give up, when they are in fact a disadvantaged group whose subculture must be protected.

Workers, on the other hand, seem to be an independent group whose rights are legally protected, but they have in reality become mere bargaining chips in a market long dependent on economic development.

Comparing the two, I feel that workers — a huge group — are worse off. Unlike ethnic groups, workers as a group cannot be identified with a particular locality, nor are they politically sensitive in the same way as veterans or foreign spouses are.

Instead, they have lost the importance that makes politicians gauge their impact as a voting group or try to win them over with pork barrel policies, as well as the ability to turn around and say to politicians: “Hey, there are a lot of votes to be had here, what do you have to offer us?”

The question is what workers should do to create a set of attributes or an image unique to them as a group to give them political weight.

Being a “worker” is not a particular profession — workers are a social class deprived of democratic rights by capital and management. For them, it is much harder than for Hakka people or foreign spouses to shake the target of their struggle. Because their experience in the workplace is neither democratic nor independent, workers are incapable of believing in the democratic society that politicians talk about at election time. For those who spend their days within the constraints of an undemocratic workplace, this is a false democracy that only serves to hide the cracks.

The increased tension comes not so much from the attractive election promises that politicians are making as the fact that capitalism will not give workers the democratic politics — the right to political participation, a fair distribution of resources, and dignity — that they demand.

Once they gain these three rights, the current thinking that informs policies of fairness and justice today will be forced into retreat because that is the compromise that will be proposed by empowered workers. If this kind of “social reality” is understood by workers, they will become the active drivers of political and democratic reform.

Democracy in Taiwan still has a long way to go. In the coming elections, Taiwan’s workers will still be controlled by the threat of unpaid leave and the fear of a change in status to temporary labor, but one day workers will fight for democracy in the workplace and have what it takes to run for president.

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