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Photo credit: Brian Hioe 

IN AN UNSURPRISING turn of events, the new government led by the bourgeois Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has began its assault on the working class by continuing the previous KMT administration’s policy to lengthen the work hours by cutting holidays and refusing to legislate for a full two day weekend. On October 25th, over three thousand union workers and labour rights groups from around the country have gathered in front of the Legislative Yuan (Taiwan’s legislative body) to plaster its gate with flyers and to throw eggs at the building. The more radical layer of the participants attempted to force their way into the building. Police responded with riot shields and physical repression, resulting in several injuries.

The working class of Taiwan has never enjoyed a legally accorded two-day weekend, and the Taiwanese worker worked on average 2,104 hours last year, making Taiwan’s work hours the fourth longest in the world. In the past five years, Taiwan on average has one new case of overwork-related disease every five days, and one case of overwork-related death, or karoshi, every twelve days. Suffice to say that the workers of Taiwan toil in absolutely inhuman conditions despite living in an industrially developed capitalist country. For years, labour activists have been campaigning for the institution of guaranteed two-day weekends for workers, which is a perfectly reasonable and modest demand.

Expected Assault From The DPP

YET THE WORKERS are not demonstrating for a new reform, but rather defending what they had. The new “reform” legislation from the DPP accords the workers not two-day weekends but “one rest day and one flexible rest day.” The “flexible rest day” is in effect eight hours of break hours which the management is able to freely allocate throughout the workweek, forcing workers to continue to work for 6 days out of 7. The legislation also cuts seven national holidays previously guaranteed to the workers. Overall, this is a legislation that lengthens work time.

img_0708Photo credit: Brian Hioe

The preceding KMT administration was already pushing for the holiday cuts in 2015. Prior to her election, the DPP president Tsai Ing-wen had promised to discontinue this plan. Before the election I have warned that by its nature it is not in the interest of the bourgeois DPP to advance the interest of the workers, especially during a time of global capitalist crisis. Tsai and the DPP would later completely reverse their position. The Executive Yuan, under the leadership of Premier Lin Chuan, would introduce the legislation lengthening work time to the Legislative Yuan, where the DPP’s overwhelming majority secured its passage to the parliamentary subcommittee. The DPP publically announced that it would complete the legislation by the end of September. However, when the bill was passed on for subcommittee approval, Taiwan was undergoing a surge of massive strike actions with widespread public support, most significantly the victory of the China Airline flight workers’ strike on June 24th. The marked increase in class consciousness in society, along with valiant efforts of labour rights activists, the liberal New Power Party, and the opportunistic support of the KMT opposition, forced the DPP to temporarily stall the process.

Since September, the DPP has resumed its push for the bill. Despite immediate reactions from labour rights activists, the DPP majority subcommittee approved the legislation within 17 minutes on October 5th. Apart from minor disturbances, the DPP continues to push the bill through the legislative process with its majority in the Legislative Yuan. The bill was approved by the DPP majority in the subcommittee in one minute, only 30 seconds more than when the KMT attempted to push through the massive Cross Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA) undemocratically in 2014.

The determination of the DPP under Tsai to attack the working class is not confined to the lengthening of work time. The concessions that the state managed China Airline made to the workers after the June strike mostly remained undelivered since then, prompting renewed protests and threats of future strikes.

The Organic Crisis Of Capitalism

THIS ATTACK ON the working class cannot be understood in isolation from the current capitalist crisis in Taiwan and around the world. The GDP growth rate of Taiwan has sharply reduced from 3.9% in 2014 to only 0.7% last year, while a steep deduction in trade saw a 10.9% drop in export between 2014 and 2015, with a 15.8% drop in import values in the same period [1]. Exports to the Chinese and Southeast Asian market have declined more than 10%, and export to the US also dropped by 8.5%. This is coupled with excess savings having grown to 14.62%,the highest in over two decades, while overall investment rate has been on a steady decline since 2010 [2]. Unemployment rate of those between 20-24 persisting above 12%. The most wealthy 10% of the population now own over 61.8% of all the wealth in the country.

This anemic growth, slowdown in investment, and rampant inequality is not unique to the economy of Taiwan. In 2014 the OEDC published a grim report projecting the world economy would be experiencing slow growth for at least 50 years. The United States’ anemic “recovery” is growing at a rate that would be typically be characterized as growth recession. China’s growing crisis of overproduction is signaled by turbulent stock market performance earlier this year, its inability to curb the decline in growth rate,  and the fact that export oriented jobs in China coming under increasing threat. Europe’s acute economic crisis is exacerbated by events such as Brexit and the possible further crumbling of the EU, as well as bubbling banking crises in Germany and Italy. The “emerging” markets that the world bourgeoisie had pinned its hopes to are all entering into crisis . All the so-called BRIC economies are in crisis: Brazil, India and Russia are in difficulties. In fact, Brazil and Russia are in a slump. The slowdown in the so-called emerging markets is set to be even sharper than in the advanced capitalist countries. The IMF predicts that their potential output, which continued to expand in the run-up to the crisis, is set to decline from 6.5% a year between 2008 and 2014 to 5.2% in the next five years. In 2014, reporting on the International Center for Monetary and Banking Studies (ICMBS) conclusions, BBC states:

“Since then [2008], it is the developing world, especially China that has driven the rise in debt. In the case of China, the report describes the rise in debt as ‘stellar’. Excluding financial companies it has increased by 72 percentage points to a level far higher than any other emerging economy. The report says there have been marked increases in Turkey, Argentina and Thailand as well.

Emerging economies are particularly worrying for the authors of the report: “They could be at the epicentre of the next crisis. Although the level of leverage is higher in developed markets, the speed of the recent leverage process in emerging economies, and especially in Asia, is indeed an increasing concern.”

Everything points to the fact that the capitalist system is in decay and the growing possibility of a worldwide slump.

img_0793Photo credit: Brian Hioe

All of this underscores the reality that world capitalism, since the post WWII boom, is entering into a new, sharp phase of decay. The previous crises have only led to the increased concentration of capital at the hands of few monopolies, while there is no longer new markets to be expanded and profits made. The only way for capitalists to continue the realization of profit is to enlarge the exploitation of the working class, yet while also demanding the working class increase their purchase of commodities. This contradiction is is exacerbating exponentially across the world.

This would explain why the Tsai administration has had such a short honeymoon with the people, and had to quickly resort to open attacks against the working class in less than a year of taking office, as well as maintaining interests of the ruling class, as seen in the scandal of Mega Bank and also the considering reversal in her position against expansion of Nuclear Power Plants. Premier Lin Chuan has been under direct pressure from the “Seven Major Industrial and Commercial Organizations”, the semi-official body that negotiates with the government on behalf of a significant portion of Taiwanese capitalists. The DPP’s past advocacy for de jure Taiwanese independence on the basis of capitalism, though now largely no longer pursued, has been considered by the bourgeois as antagonistic to China and therefore the possibilities for them to invest in China as a class. Their pressure upon the Tsai administration has markedly ramped up since July, especially with the coming conference of cross-strait business groups upcoming in early November.

Rising Class Struggle

THE OBJECTIVE condition of the crisis of Taiwanese capitalism naturally yields a rise in Class consciousness in Taiwan out of the concrete need to defend themselves. This culminated in the China Airline strike which, though only involving over 2,000 direct participants, inspired widespread support from student groups, passengers, and other civil rights movements. There were also a series of actions such as the planned strike of the Taiwan High Speed Railway Corporation, a movement by  postal worker’s for adjusting unfair work evaluation schemes, and the protracted struggle of Nan Shan Life insurance workers to raise wages, which received widespread attention and support when  they would not have previously on Taiwan. The Taiwan International Workers’ Association (TIWA)’s campaign to end the laws forcing migrant workers to exit Taiwan every three years was widely supported and eventually legislated. The newly formed “123 League” for combating the bill encompasses larger membership on a previously unseen scale in this movement.

The class struggle in Taiwan and the world will only exacerbate in the coming period, particularly after the slump that is now on the horizon. The workers and youth of Taiwan have proven themselves to be energetic, self-sacrificing in recent actions, but what else is to be done? How can we work towards ending this capitalist system that imposes unnecessary misery and suffering of the majority of the people?

No Capitalist Alternatives

WHILE THE PRESENT assault upon the working class is enforced primarily by the DPP administration via the state machinery of the Republic of China, we must not have any illusion about any other pro-capitalist forces that opportunistically jump out to present themselves as the alternative. The KMT is now styling itself as the opposition party that fights for two-day weekends for the workers. This marks a new height in the KMT’s mastery in boldface shamelessness, perfected over the past century. We must never forget that the DDP’s plan is a continuation of the KMT’s policy. Not only that, we must clearly understand that the KMT’s outlook is shaped by its history of being the the representative of imperialism, to the extent that it’s butchery of Chinese working class recoiled into its expulsion from China by the mighty Chinese Revolution, and that its previous alignment to the US resulted in the longest martial law period in the past century. It is now seeking to represent the forces of Chinese capital, who grew to it’s present size out of parasitic exploitation of the Chinese working class, and sought to both invest its excess capital abroad while maintaining the phantom of its legitimacy as a “Chinese Communist Party” by advancing to take over Taiwan on the basis of capitalism. No matter who you identify yourself as: a Chinese worker or a Taiwanese worker, your interest as a member of the working class will not advance a millimeter no matter who is in charge of the capitalist government.

img_0806Photo credit: Brian Hioe

The same applies to the US, whom a segment of the DDP and New Power Party hopes to win over to combat China’s ambition over Taiwan. We must never forget that it was US imperialism that ensured the brutal dictatorship of Chiang and the KMT in Taiwan in the first place, and the awkward international standing that Taiwan has at present is just as much of a product of the US’s maneuvering as it is China’s nationalist policies. One cannot find an instance in history where the US government advocated for the betterment of the working class of Taiwan, but instead cooperates with both the KMT and the DPP to pressure Taiwan into importing suspicious American food products such as chemical-laced pork, or into the vastly undemocratic and dubious TPP to bolster the power of multinational corporations in Taiwan in exchange for it’s security assurance. The US government also requires the ROC government to regularly purchase old weapons at high price using taxpayers’ money.

Further, the past two decades can largely be characterized by the decline of US imperialist power around the world, and is internally going through tremendous social turmoil in a way not so different from that of the class struggle of Taiwan. In the next period of crisis, it will not necessarily be in the interest of the US government to lend its support to the people of Taiwan, a country it has always treated as a mere pawn in its schemes in Asia. The forces of capital, no matter whom, have nothing to offer the working class. The workers must take their destiny into their own hands.

Building For A Mass Socialist Party Of The Working Class

THE RECENT STRUGGLES have led to increasingly large formations such as the 123 League, providing a hint of the working class’ ability to work in solidarity and form a titanic force that can defeat the ruling class. Yet, the workers must clearly understand that the assault from the capitalist class will only grow in the coming days, and that instead of working together for individual causes, there is an urgent necessity to form a mass political organization under their democratic control, and seek to defeat the bosses’ parties rather than trying to pressure them into small reforms, which is no longer an option for the ruling class. Such a party will be able to pool together small contributions from each members into a massive treasury that dwarfs the size of the bosses’ organizations, and challenge the capitalist rule head-on.

img_0827Photo credit: Brian Hioe

This party must never have any illusions in simply reforming capitalism or the capitalist state even if it obtains political power. Marx explained in the Communist Manifesto that “The executive of the modern state is nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.” We have clearly seen how the forces of capital took advantage of the state machinery to enforce anti-worker measures and use state violence to crackdown on dissent in order to maintain the system of capitalism under both the KMT and the DPP administrations. The system of private property is always antagonistic to the proletariat. It must be overthrown by placing the means of production under democratic workers’ control, and a worker’s state composed of workers’ own democratic organizations need to be established. The revolutionary workers of Taiwan will not find a shortage of allies and comrades from around the world, and must actively connect with the increasingly conscious workers of China, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and beyond to help each other advance the revolution in their respective countries.

It may be that a majority of the members of the working class has yet to join the struggle. It is now the duty of the serious and honest advocates of the working class to carefully study the literature and history of Marxist revolutionaries, and train themselves into cadres that can in turn educate other workers and play a vital role organizationally in the revolutionary times that is ahead of us.

[1] 自財政部統計處,《進出口貿易統計》,「進出口貿易值及年增率-按美元計算」,http://dmz9.moea.gov.tw/GMWeb/common/CommonQuery.aspx

[2] 出自行政院主計總處,「國民所得、儲蓄與投資-年依期間, 計價方式, 種類與項目 」,http://statdb.dgbas.gov.tw/pxweb/Dialog/Saveshow.asp