More than 1,000 people took to the streets to vent their anger toward the government in the annual Autumn Struggle rally yesterday in Taipei, accusing the government of favoring capitalists, while disregarding the suffering of ordinary people.
“Citizens take a left turn, return the nation to the people,” the crowd chanted at the gathering point outside The Palace, a luxury high-rise apartment complex in Taipei, where many celebrities and business leaders live.
“We’ve chosen to begin our march from outside The Palace, because we want to show how ironic it is that we’re living in the same country, yet those who are living within and outside the fence are living in two different worlds,” Chang Chien-kuo (常建國), a member of the Raged Citizens Act Now who led the demonstration, told the crowd. “Apparently, the government stands with those living within the fence, and ignores the suffering of us, who could never afford to live inside.”
While the government repeatedly declares that it is implementing policies to save the country from economic recession, those policies are always tax cuts for the rich, assisting corporations to seize private lands and further loosening labor regulations, Chang said.
“Basically, the government’s idea of ‘reviving the economy’ is that they will feed beef to the rich, and we should stay down, hoping that they may drop something from above so that we may be able to eat,” he said.
Taipei City Confederation of Trade Unions president Chiang Wan-chin (蔣萬金), agreed, saying that labor rights activists are not opposed to the rich, but they are opposed to capitalists who become rich by repressing workers.
“Reviving the economy should mean reviving the economy for all, not for only a few,” Chiang said. “The government is now pushing for free economic zones, but this will only make it worse for Taiwanese workers, as it will allow capitalists to import cheap foreign workers.”
Chiang went on to criticize the government for encouraging businesses to hire temporary workers, especially when the Council of Labor Affairs is proposing legislation on temporary workers.
“We condemn corporations for overlooking workers’ rights by using a large number of temporary workers, and it’s even more upsetting that the government is taking the lead in hiring temporary workers,” Chiang said.
The demonstrators placed pictures of 10 government and business leaders — including President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺), Council of Labor Affairs Minister Pan Shih-wei (潘世偉), Council for Economic Planning and Development Minister Kuan Chung-ming (管中閔) and Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) — into a frying pan filled with cooking oil, symbolizing the traditional belief that evil people may be fried in hell after death.
The protesters marched peacefully from The Palace to the Ministry of Finance, with representatives from different groups — including urban renewal victims, environmentalists, gender rights activists, foreign workers and teachers’ unions — each speaking against the government’s development-minded policies.
Among the marchers were about a dozen firefighters who joined the demonstration for the first time, calling on the government to improve their working conditions.
Yang Shih-wei (楊適瑋), a firefighter in Taipei, said that the firefighting force is severely understaffed, forcing most firefighters to work overtime, and many are not paid for their overtime work.
“According to the National Fire Agency’s own estimate, a total of 24,652 firefighters are needed across the country, but the entire firefighting force has only 13,941 people, meaning that there’s about a 50 percent shortage in manpower,” Yang said.
Yang said that in Taipei, firefighters may have one day off after one day of work, but in most other cities and counties, firefighters need to work two days to get one day off, and often they are asked to give up their day off because of manpower shortages.
“The horrible thing is that sometimes it is considered a ‘non-working day’ if we stay in the fire station for the whole day without any assignment. Our supervisor may say that it doesn’t count as a working day because we stayed in the station and slept,” Yang said. “Well, if I wanted to sleep, I would sleep at home. I was in the fire station because I was asked to work.”
A firefighter from Hsinchu County surnamed Wu (吳) said that once he was asked to work 14 days straight.
“Most firefighters suffer from stomach problems because of the irregular work hours and the stress,” Wu said. “It would not be as much of a burden if we only had to focus on firefighting and disaster rescues, but people often call the fire station for anything that they want help with, adding a lot of work for us.”
For example, Wu said that he was once dispatched to help people pick up a fallen flowerpot in front of a house, while Yang said that a man in Taipei once said that there was a ghost in his house and asked him to catch the ghost for him.
The demonstration ended after demonstrators placed green and blue slippers on barbed-wire police barricades to symbolize that they are fed up with both the green and the blue political camps.