by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Brian Hioe
A DEMONSTRATION by several thousand workers took place today, beginning in front of DPP headquarters, then marching down Zhongxiao West Road to the Legislative Yuan. Once at the Legislative Yuan, workers pasted posters of Tsai Ing-Wen on the gate of the Legislative Yuan, and threw eggs at the Legislative Yuan. With reports that ten workers had entered the Legislative Yuan around the time the rally was set to disperse, several hundred demonstrators then proceeded to Qingdao East Road, in front of the Legislative Yuan.
Subsequently followed a period of protestors being surrounded by police, which also numbered several hundred in number. With it remaining unknown as to the fate of those inside the Legislative Yuan, demonstrators then attempted to charge into the Legislative Yuan. This was not successful, but a number of protestors were injured, with reports of face, arm, hand, nose, and foot injuries. Two required hospitalization. When an ambulance arrived, protestors attempted to leave the area surrounded by police, with the stated intent of checking on the injured. When police refused to let protestors out of their encirclement this led to further clashes with riot police. Protestors eventually broke through and, seeing as occupying the Legislative Yuan seemed impossible, they disbanded, vowing for future actions to take place in November.
Contested Labor Policy By The DPP
WORKERS WERE demonstrating against the planned removal of seven public holidays by the Tsai administration. This has been a hotbed issue for Taiwanese labor since before 2016 elections, with demonstrations mostly fronted by the Worker’s Struggle (工鬥) labor group. Previous demonstrations against public holidays cuts included a hunger strike, an attempt to occupy the Ministry of Labor, and a surprise demonstration outside of Tsai Ing-Wen’s private residence.
Taiwanese workers already work some of the highest hours in the world. Workers in Taipei averaged over 2,104 annual working hours in 2015. This means that, as a country, Taiwan ranks as having the fourth longest working hours in the world. But with planned cuts to public holidays, the Tsai administration would seek to reduce the amount of holidays enjoyed by Taiwanese workers nonetheless.
After past demonstrations by labor groups, the Tsai administration backed down from its plan, suggesting that it may be open to the demands of labor group. This would be in allowing for two set rest days for workers rather than one set rest day and one “flexible rest day,” during which workers could still be made to work overtime, and the restoration of cut holidays.
In response, seven large business groups stated that they would suspend all current wage negotiations if the Tsai administration backed down from cutting public holidays, leading the Tsai administration to then try and distance itself from its previous suggestion that it would back down from its plans to restore public holidays. Following a meeting between Tsai and business leaders, Tsai stated that she would try to balance “worker’s rights” with “boss’s rights.” This led to much ambiguity as to whether the Tsai administration would side with workers or side with big business. Yet with anger from both workers and business leaders at the Tsai administration’s waffling on the matter, it seemed that the Tsai administration had somehow managed to offend both sides through its indecision.
Photo credit: Brian Hioe
However, earlier in October, the Tsai administration indicated that it had decided to side with big business but rejecting the demands of labor groups altogether, in rejecting worker’s demands to restore cut public holidays or for there to be two set rest days. Given that the Tsai administration is a political administration of a bourgeois government, the Tsai administration ultimately deciding to side with big business is not altogether surprising.
But it is still surprising that the Tsai administration did not try to placate labor by granting them one demand or another and instead took a hard line against labor, claiming that it could no longer continue with a policy of trying to placate any and all interest groups which made political demands of it. Of course, labor is far from just another interest group, seeing as planned changes to labor laws stand to affect all working members of Taiwanese society, and the Tsai administration stands to alienate a large sector of society through siding with big business. Indeed, during today’s demonstration, organizers attributed the declining approval rating of the Tsai administration to its poor handling of labor issues.
What was particularly enraging was the undemocratic means used by the Tsai administration to force through labor changes. The amendment to the Labor Standards Act was passed in under seventeen minutes, with the review of the act declared complete in under two minutes by Chen Ying, the DPP head of the Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee. This was accomplished by mobilizing members of the DPP to occupy five conference rooms ahead of time, changing the site of the meeting from its original location at the last minute, and only announcing the site of the new meeting at the last minute. Despite New Power Party (NPP) and KMT legislators rushing over to the new meeting site and members of the NPP attempting to propose changes to the meeting, the bill was passed. The bill still needs to be reviewed on the floor of the Legislative Yuan and not just through a committee, however, to take effect.
Such actions by the DPP are, of course, highly reminiscent of the KMT’s “black box” means of undemocratically forcing through of the CSSTA in March 2014, the event which prompted the Sunflower Movement occupation of the Legislative Yuan. Unsurprisingly, during today’s protests, it was a frequent refrain for organizers to state that the DPP’s actions in power were no different than the KMT’s.
The three demands of demonstrators was for a repeal of the undemocratic process by which changes to labor law were passed, open meetings discussion the issue in the future, and no less than 123 days off for Taiwanese workers per year, given how much Taiwanese workers already work per year. But noticeably, organizers of the demonstration today focused on the issue of planned holiday cuts, with little discussion of previous contention over set rest days and “flexible rest days.” This may reflect an attempt by organized labor to compromise with the Tsai administration by lessening their demands, in spite of the Tsai administration’s own lack of compromise.
Participants In The Demonstration
TODAY’S DEMONSTRATION was to coincide with the first reading of the bill on the floor of the Legislative Yuan tomorrow. It was preceded by a demonstration on the morning of October 23rd outside the Legislative Yuan and demonstrations in late September. Participating organizations in the demonstration include labor groups from Taiwan’s northern, central, and southern regions, such as union groups from Tainan, Kaohsiung, Taichung, Hsinchu, and Taoyuan.
Of “Third Force” political parties, members of the Social Democratic Party and Green Party were also in attendance, including Fan Yun of the Social Democratic Party. Huang Kuo-Chang of the NPP, himself a former Sunflower Movement leader, gave a speech criticizing the Tsai administration’s actions as using “black box” means to force through labor policy and vowing that the NPP would do all it could to annul the illegitimate process which led to labor changes being passed. This led to members of the crowd cheering on the NPP.
Other speakers included a KMT contingent, which included KMT legislators Johnny Chiang and Chiang Wan-An, and Lee Yen-hsiu. Notably, Johnny Chiang and Chiang Wan-An, who are father and son, are respectively the grandson and great-grandson of Chiang Kai-Shek. Representatives of the People First Party (PFP) were also slated to speak, but seeing as they would only arrive one hour later than any other speakers, the impatience of demonstrators to get on with throwing eggs at the Legislative Yuan led to any speeches by PFP members being canceled.
One can allay the charge of Worker’s Struggle organizers trying too much to be bipartisan in allowing members of the KMT to speak, despite anti-KMT sentiment sometimes slipping into their speeches. Although it is to be noted that some members of the crowd did in fact cheer on the KMT, the KMT and pan-Blue camp traditionally has been disdainful of Taiwanese labor. But finding itself in the role of a political opposition for the first time in the party’s history, it would be the party is making attempts to reach out to Taiwanese labor. Hence recent efforts by the KMT opportunistically latch onto Taiwanese labor issues.
Future Actions Planned
DESPITE PROMISES from the NPP, KMT, and PFP to oppose planned changes to labor law tomorrow in legislature during its first reading, how the issue will be resolved ultimately remains to be seen. The NPP, KMT, and PFP may simply find themselves outgunned by the DPP. Future demonstrations are planned for November during the second and third readings of the planned changes.
Before disbanding, workers today vowed that they would be back in larger numbers, and that they would succeed in occupying the Legislative Yuan next time. So is another Legislative Yuan occupation a possibility in the near future?
Attempting to storm the Legislative Yuan. Photo credit: Brian Hioe
Past months have seen an uptick in labor activity, the historic China Airlines strike having demonstrated the effectiveness of strikes to Taiwanese youth activists who had previously not taken a substantial interest in labor issues. But today’s demonstration could have drawn in more members of Taiwanese youth activism. It may require further outreach by labor groups for Taiwanese activists to participate en masse in future actions, as they did during the China Airlines strike.
Even then, it is to be seen whether another attempt at occupying the Legislative Yuan would be successful. Since the Sunflower Movement’s occupation of the Legislative Yuan, many attempts have been made at occupying the Legislative Yuan on behalf of various social issues in the hopes that this would draw widespread public attention to that issue. However, repeating any given tactic over and over again may cause that tactic to lose its effectiveness.
Likewise, having flip-flopped so many times already, it seems unlikely that the Tsai administration can back down any further on the issue of changes to labor laws. The Tsai administration has already drawn a line in the sand by deciding to side with big business over organized labor, demonstrating that the Tsai administration may no longer be as open to negotiation with civil society groups as it once was. Consequently, if the strategy of labor groups remains reliant on forcing the Tsai administration to back down as a result of popular pressure, this may also no longer prove an effective tactic. Thus, we will see as the future actions of Taiwanese labor in coming weeks and months.