June 25, 2017

Tags Posts tagged with "may day"

may day

PUBLIC holidays – a time for rest… and a time for protest?

While Labour Day went by without too much fanfare in Singapore, the occasion was politically-charged in many other parts of the world. People took to the streets to call for better working conditions, while labour unions aired their grievances to politicians.

And with the rise of the far right in the US and across Europe, this year’s protests were also uncomfortably tinged with anti-immigrant sentiments. Have May Day protests become an even more potent political force? We look at significant ones from this year:

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1. Paris, France: Going too far against the far-right

Image by Wikimedia Commons user David Monniaux.

Divisive elections and large gatherings can be an explosive mix, as the French found out on May Day. A peaceful march near the Bastille monument escalated into violence rapidly, as protesters hurled Molotov cocktails at the police, who responded with tear gas.

Six officers were injured, with one suffering third-degree burns. The tensions came on the heels of the terrorist attack at Champs Elysees that killed an officer, stoking fears about national security in an increasingly volatile country.

The majority of protestors claimed to be marching against presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and her anti-immigrant rhetoric. There are suspicions that the crowd was hijacked by a group of about 150 agitators, who were upset that Ms Le Pen had made it to the final round of polls. But their outburst might have turned into political mileage for the far-right stalwart, who has long condemned violent riots in the country.


2. Phnom Penh, Cambodia: Garment workers ‘sew’ dissent

Image by Wikimedia Commons user Thenetparadigm.

The Cambodian government had officially banned labour unions from marching on May 1, but for disillusioned citizens, disobedience was the only option. Thousands of garment workers took to the streets to demand an increase in their monthly wages and better working conditions. Police on site did not interfere with the march.

The apparel industry is one of Cambodia’s biggest sources of income, generating $6 billion for the country annually. It has long relied on suppressing wages to maintain a competitive edge globally, but this has come at the cost of entrenching some 600,000 workers in poverty.

Over the years, the Collective Union Movement of Workers, a Cambodian labour union, has achieved small victories for garment workers, such as a $13 raise in the minimum wage effective this year. But until they obtain their requested minimum wage of $171 per month, the workers will take their grievances far beyond May Day.


3. Jakarta, Indonesia: Flowers on fire

Image by Wikimedia Commons user Jonathan McIntosh.

Around 40,000 protestors flooded the streets to demand higher wages, and improved working conditions. Workers marched toward the presidential palace, while other activists carried signs advocating for the rights of female domestic workers.

But the peaceful labour demonstrations in Jakarta were marred by the burning of flower boards left for Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja. A group of trade unionists from Indonesian Electric Metal Workers Federation and the Confederation of All Indonesian Workers Union (KSPSI) destroyed the boards and set them on fire. Trade unions have opposed Ahok as they are unhappy with the minimum wage set by his administration for Jakarta. Some have interpreted their actions as politically motivated and an unwarranted distraction from the advocacy of labour rights. “Jakarta today – a handful of people trying to tarnish the labour struggle…this is shameful” said a netizen on twitter.

Defeated in the 2017 Jakarta elections, Ahok and his running mate Djarot Saiful Hidayat got only 43 per cent of the votes. His rivals accused him of making blasphemous statements against Islam. Indonesian prosecutors had called for him to be jailed.


4. Istanbul, Turkey: Reminder of a gruesome history 

Image by Wikimedia Commons user Mstyslav Chernov.

May day protests in Turkey turned violent as the Turkish police fired tear-gas and rubber-bullets at demonstrators in Istanbul. Among those who attempted to reach Taksim Square Mosque, 200 were detained by authorities. Experts say that tensions were heightened especially after a crackdown and a failed coup on July 15 last year.

Clashes erupted in various parts of the city as demonstrators, led by members of left-wing parties and trade unions, took to the streets.

Taksim Square was the place that demonstrators gathered to celebrate Labour Day until 1977, when the protests turned ugly, with dozens killed on “Bloody May Day”.

Turkey’s Western allies say Ankara has sharply curtailed freedom of speech and other basic rights in the crackdown that followed a failed coup last year.


5. Oregon, United States: Pepsi takes centre stage

Screenshot from Twitter user Doug Brown.

And on the lighter side of things – Kendall Jenner’s infamous Pepsi ad got disproven in real life. In a May Day protest in Portland, someone actually attempted to hand a can of Pepsi to law enforcement, in nearly the same fashion that Jenner did in the now widely-spoofed video.

But no, the crowd did not erupt into cheers. Rather, the officer simply did not react to the gesture. And other protesters pelted the police with Pepsi cans instead. Not so refreshing, after all.


Featured image by Flickr user Johan Fantenberg. CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Photo By Shawn Danker
Protesters attending the May Day protest at Hong Lim Park.

The Worker’s Pledge

On this May Day, I pledge to:

1. Work faster and smarter, train and re-train at the Devan Nair Institute of Employment and Employability to ramp up Singapore’s productivity.

2. Pray that my company will not be a victim of the current economic restructuring which is leading to an “inching up’’ of unemployment.

3. Hope that my work will not be outsourced by my boss or passed to a robot.

  1. Move to a HR job so that I can retrench other people and not myself

5. Achieve work-life balance while assuring my boss that I am still as hardworking as ever.

6. Be the good customer that Lim Swee Say wants me to be.

7. Bone up on changes to the employment laws to protect my rights and turn to the new tribunal if my boss docks my pay when I complain. .

8. Report my employer to MOM if he doesn’t pay my CPF on time so that one of its 5,000 inspectors will go through his books

9. Keep fit and join in the company’s annual runs – just like the Manpower Minister

10. Do as the Prime Minister says and work hard to emulate the Pioneer Generation. (So that I can be eligible for the same benefits package when I hit 65 ?).

11. Learn to read unemployment statistics and figure out when to use percentages, month-on-month, year-on-year, consecutive quarters and the difference between resident population and citizens, annualised and seasonal.

12. Make sure I am better and cheaper than the foreign talent my company is eyeing.

13.  If not, report my employer to Fair Employment panel for discrimination.

14.  Know who is Gilbert Goh. Or maybe not.

15. Eat, sleep, make babies and hope that the MRT takes me to work and home on time.

The Bosses’ Pledge

On this day after May Day, I pledge to

  1. Work my workers to the bone, to squeeze out every ounce of productivity juice and therefore help the economy.
  2. Monitor MCs and warn those who take too many about contributing to the rise of healthcare costs
  3. Persecute those who took TODAY off work, because they’re enjoying the long holiday that I can’t.
  4. Get my workers to train and re-train, provided I can get enough subsidies to cover the cost of having them elsewhere
  5. Promote my workers to a higher pay scale on the progressive wage ladder system, even though their training hasn’t made them more productive
  6. Hire pregnant women provided they agree to use their maternity leave to work from home
  7. Treat over-time work as pro bono contributions to the economy
  8. Give all workers fancy titles and call them executives so that I don’t have to pay them for working on their day-off
  9. Hire more Singaporeans, so that I can hire proportionately more foreigners
  10.  Give low basic pay but promise big bonuses, which will never happen because the company will never do well if I can help it
  11. Pay myself 10 times more than my average worker, because that is the trend on Wall Street
  12. Be a good corporate citizen and give to charity, so that I can get tax deductions and get my name in the media
  13. Re-hire those above 65, but only if they are willing to accept a 50 per cent pay cut
  14. Hire people on contract terms so that I don’t have to pay CPF.
  15. Hire a good lawyer.

This article was first published at berthahenson.wordpress.com.

by Bertha Henson

Don’t know how many people know this but there are actually two events taking place at Hong Lim Park on May Day. The more well-known one is by the same organisers who held the Population White Paper protest in February. This has been billed variously as a sequel, a move to call for a better Singapore – a labour day “protest’’ – a ground up movement – unlike the prim and proper NTUC May Day rally held indoors for invited guests only.

It will start at 4pm.

There is also a morning event starting at 9am, held by a group of people who call themselves Stand Up For Singapore. These are the people who distributed tokens to bus and taxi drivers who worked during Christmas. They propose a picnic-style event on that same patch of green more known for political events than for parties.

Being named after a national song, it is no wonder that this group has been facing some flak from those who think they are government plants out to take the shine away from the 4pm event. Never mind that this is Stand Up for Singapore organising the event – not some political group.

The scale of the reaction took them quite by surprise, key members of the group told Breakfast Network over the weekend.

The picnic would be their third event. They have always used public holidays to spread their message of getting Singaporeans to be more appreciative of each other. Their first, which caught the eye of the Prime Minister, was on National Day. They fanned out to get people to give up their seats for the elderly and the infirm on public transport. In fact, that was how their moniker Stand Up for Singapore came about. Buoyed by the good response, they proceeded with the Christmas Day event to show appreciation to those who manned the public transport system on holidays. That too garnered great responses.

Then planning began for a third. Mr Tong Yee, a member who is also behind the Thought Collective group of social enterprises, acknowledged that the group was probably naïve not to have anticipated that their event would be misconstrued as having a political agenda. They had no idea that another event was to be staged when they applied for a permit and when they did, they moved the event to the morning.

But what exactly is their message?

Mr Tong Yee said that they wanted to explore the idea of “rest’’ on May Day and incorporate the notion that rest can only be achieved if there is trust that everyone will do his or her part to ensure all is well. They chose to set this in Hong Lim Park, where Speakers’ Corner might convey the idea of “lepak in one corner’’. There was also the long-held notion that the park was only a place for the outpouring of anger and dissatisfaction. The group wanted to change that. Why can’t Hong Lim Park be a place where happy things happen too?

A bit airy-fairy?

The group admits that the idea had somewhat morphed so much that they decided to stick to a picnic theme for clarity. For $5, participants will get a goodie bag and a picnic mat. But the programme, they maintained, will reiterate the theme of expressing appreciation for others and the value of being members of a community. The group is putting up about $14,000 of their own money and have no expectations of recouping it.

Unlike the line-up of speakers for the afternoon event, there will be no “political’’ guests. “We’d rather they stayed away!’’ Mr Tong Yee said good-humouredly.

Another member, Mr Wally Tham, has been hard at work responding to those who slam the group on sites such as Temasek Review Emeritus. Going by the responses he made to detractors, the bespectacled video producer has been the soul of patience, reiterating that the picnic is not only a non-political event, but an attempt at humour even. In any case, “people will interpret anything the way they want’’.

It is tempting to describe the group which has about 12 core members as a bunch of do-gooders.  But that would be derogatory.

Said another member, architect Goh Chin Yen: “We are not cynical people. But we are not foolishly idealistic too.’’

They have an added reason for doing what they do. What the group found out from past events: young people want to be able to express positive feelings, rather than join in the cynicism that seems so prevalent among working adults. Their young volunteers were pleasantly surprised to find adults with faith in the good qualities of Singaporeans – and who were willing to demonstrate it too.

So it seems that the May Day picnic is just that: Getting people to be happy together. The group’s worry now is being able to cater for what they think would be a bigger crowd than the couple of hundred that had anticipated. Seems the group got more attention than they bargained for.

Breakfast Network wishes them well. Have a good picnic!