Burning incense and exploding firecrackers next to a table full of offerings appeared to be a regular commencement of work ceremony on the first day of work after the Lunar Near Year holidays, but the display was organized jointly by several activist groups — mainly the National Alliance for Workers of Closed Off Factories (NAWCF) — to pray for luck in rallies and protests this year.
Beginning yesterday morning, NAWCF members from Miaoli County, Taoyuan County, and New Taipei City (新北市) boarded a train bound for Taipei, after each group held a rally to explain the campaign’s purpose.
A group of laid-off workers, joined by members from other civic groups, were at Taipei Railway Station for a demonstration, followed by a traditional kaigong (開工, commencement of work) ceremony.
“Today is the sixth day of the first lunar month and traditionally, many businesses organize a kaigong ceremony to mark the end of the Lunar New Year holiday and the beginning of business in the new year,” NAWCF spokeswoman Chen Hsiu-lien (陳秀蓮) told people at the railway station. “We are holding the ceremony here to declare that we will continue to fight for justice for workers.”
During a wave of factory closures about 17 years ago, thousands of factory workers were laid off and did not receive welfare payouts after their employers fled, the groups said.
“We insist that what we were granted was not a loan, but something we’re entitled to. We urge the CLA [Council of Labor Affairs] to honor its promise made 17 years ago,” Chen said.
The council has asked the workers to repay loans it made to the workers.
Lin Tzu-wen (林子文), a laid-off worker and a unionist who was arrested last year for violating the Assembly and Parade Act (集會遊行法), said that the workers may resort to harsher action if the government fails to positively respond to their call.
“Last year, we jumped onto tracks to block railroad traffic at Taipei Railroad Station and many of us are still pending the prosecutor’s decision on whether to indict us,” Lin said. “If we dared to block trains, we will do something more if the CLA wouldn’t withdraw lawsuits against us, I’ve been to jail, I’m not afraid to be locked up again.”