Last year was a busy year for social movements. Basic wages returned to the level they were at 14 years ago. Nobody would have guessed that after being re-elected, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his administration would turn around and become the first Taiwanese government to openly list increasing the number of foreign workers and keeping the minimum wage down as major policies for national development.
At the same time, Ma appointed a premier who believes the minimum wage should be scrapped and who is busying himself with setting up a new processing and export area in southern Taiwan to lure back Taiwanese businesspeople from China, saying this is a good way to spur industrial upgrading and boost employment.
On the other hand, the Presidential Office seems to have disappeared into thin air and is not taking any concrete action. For example, the Presidential Office is allowing administrative bodies at various levels to ignore court decisions and lets them continue with their development of industrial and scenic areas. And faced with monopolization of the media, the government has completely given up on its role of control and monitoring.
We should realize that the government has a very consistent logic when it comes to which policies to promote and which to scrap. Government policy is ruled by the desires of large corporations, with economics and finance officials applying neoliberal ideas when it suits them. This does not mean that past presidents distanced themselves from the wishes of capitalists, but in the past, we seldom saw such a lack of discretion in who they were listening to and the way they were pampering to and acting on the opinions of capitalists.
Therefore, the social movements we have seen this year have been characterized by their challenges to the control large corporations have over the country. Mass protests against the forced eviction of the Wang family from their home in Taipei’s Shilin District (士林) in connection with the Wenlin Yuan (文林苑) urban renewal project, the construction of the Miramar Resort Village in Taitung County, the debate about the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in Gongliao District (貢寮), media buyouts and the recent freezes of the minimum wage can all be seen as reactions against the power of corporations by civil society.
This force for justice has become very strong and as a result, we have seen a second phenomenon emerge in social movements: Different civic groups are engaging in mutual dialogue and supporting and cooperating with each other.
The movement against media monopolization has not only resulted in the mobilization of groups supporting media reform, but student and labor groups are also taking part. In addition, many different groups from around Taiwan are participating in the anti-nuclear movement that started after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. Apart from such open collective action, many previously silent workshops, symposiums and training camps have also engaged in dialogue and discussion on a large number of cross-issues. Issues like build-operate-transfer contracts and government land expropriation have become part of the agenda for social movements in a wide variety of spheres.
The Internet is increasingly being used as a tool for mobilizing the public and those involved in the gay and lesbian rights, environmental and labor movements are gaining more experience in using it for this purpose.