Sat, May 06, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Reform protesters represent the past

By Lee Min-yung 李敏勇

Attempts to deal with the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) ill-gotten assets, amassed from a wide range of sources since the end of World War II, have met with resistance from powerful politicians, and attempts to reform the civil servant pension scheme have encountered great resistance from retired military personnel, civil servants and public-school teachers.

As their interests would be directly affected by reform, it is no surprise that they are strongly opposed to it.

Opponents of pension reform are an interesting contrast to Sunflower movement protesters in 2014. One major difference is the personal and public interests of the groups.

While reform opponents are fighting for personal interests, the Sunflower protesters were fighting for the public interest.

Pension reform opponents launch vicious attacks on others to secure their interests. Ironically, they were the ones who would accuse people of creating unnecessary social costs.

Another difference between the pension reform opponents and the Sunflower movement is the generations they represent. While the former consists mostly of retired grandparents, the latter are mostly unmarried young people. The two groups differ greatly in age.

While pension reform opponents are already enjoying retired life, the student protesters were yet to begin careers. Their age, almost on opposite ends of the spectrum, makes for another stark contrast.

Despite their loud complaints, the pension reform opponents do not necessarily represent all retired public-sector employees. Other retired civil servants and military personnel have welcomed the reform.

A look at the ethnic composition of the opponents shows that many of them are so-called benshengren (本省人) — literally “people from this province” — who started working in government, the state bureaucracy and the military — three sectors that were filled by those who came from China with the KMT in 1949 — thus creating a new social class.

Meanwhile, a look at KMT lawmakers who have been trying to block the pension reform bills reveals how far some politicians will go just to secure their vested interests, which is a shame.

Public-sector employees have risen to privileged status because of their obedience to the KMT government during the Martial Law era. In addition to job stability, they enjoy special retirement benefits, including the world’s highest income replacement ratio, as a result of the government’s unwillingness to design a better pension system.

In the past, people would take to the streets to push for change, but pension reform opponents have done the same to resist change — and what they are willing to do to achieve their goal is shocking.

Nevertheless, the emergence of the new class consisting of people of different ethnic backgrounds shows that society has evolved.

Many Sunflower movement participants were second or third-generation waishengren (外省人) — literally “people from other provinces” — whose parents came from China with the KMT in 1949. Their effort to promote public interests and fight for a more just world has helped break the stereotypical view of waishengren. They represent a new generation of Taiwanese and are far more worthy of respect than reform opponents.

While those among the older generation who are opposed to pension reform live in the past, the younger Sunflower movement generation is the future.

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