by Brian Hioe

Photo Credit: Brian Hioe

ORGANIZED LABOR GROUPS rallied on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office Building today for International Workers’ Day, also known as May Day in other parts of the world. Though the rally was not as large as in past years, prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the gradual accommodation to COVID-19 in Taiwanese society is what has allowed for International Workers’ Day demonstrations to again take place. Last year, for example, only saw a few hundred workers participate in International Workers’ Day commemorations that were significantly scaled down. Following speeches, workers marched through Taipei, heading north past the Executive Yuan.

Skit calling attention to the plight of medical workers during COVID-19. Photo credit: Brian Hioe

As such, several thousand were in attendance, with a color stage set up on Ketagalan Boulevard. A lengthy police barrier separated workers from the Presidential Office Building. Labor groups were present from companies ranging from the Chunghwa Telecom Union to the MEGA Bank Union and Taiwan Petroleum Workers Union. Stalwarts of the labor movement in past years including the Taoyuan Flight Attendants’ Union, Taiwan Railways Union, and Taoyuan Confederation of Trade Unions were present.

The demands of the protest were to call for an increase in wages and restoration of public holidays previously cut by the Tsai administration in its first term, as well as more protections for workers. Speakers called attention to the lack of opportunities for young people in Taiwan, resulting in young people not being able to afford having children, or otherwise not having the opportunities that older generations did. Likewise, speakers called attention to the fact that Taiwan will soon be a super-aged society, with insufficient pensions to survive.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Two skits were performed on the color stage. The first skit depicted President Tsai Ing-wen, Vice President William Lai, and Premier Chen Chien-jen as magicians that through their sorcery drew in the votes of workers, making promises to improve the lot of workers. This was represented through votes that were thrown into a box, as the theme of the Harry Potter series played in the background. But in the end, the votes were transfigured to the statement “Ask the boss yourself”. During the skit, however, the MC repeated the claim advanced by conspiracy theorists in Taiwan that Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen has not been able to produce her dissertation, suggesting that she does not actually have a Ph. D and suggested that Lai and Chen dominated over Taiwan’s executive branch.

The second skit focused on the plight of medical workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly since the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) that coordinates Taiwan’s response to COVID-19 is to be dissolved today as COVID-19 is downgraded in importance. For the skit, a number of medical workers dressed in PPE suits, while one worker took on the role of the CECC head. The first part of the skit depicted the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the CECC promising protections for workers including subsidizing PCR tests, and sick days. During the second part of the skit, three years later, workers were denied sick days, subsidized PCR tests, or other measures they were promised. The speakers were also critical of medical workers not being allowed to leave the country during the start of the pandemic and CECC head Chen Shih-Chung running for Taipei mayor in 2022, with the daily COVID-19 press conference held by the CECC framed as a political show.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

As elections will take place next January, participants in the demonstration carried signs suggesting that workers would ultimately foot the bill and suffer the consequences for elections. Workers, too, were called on to be careful with their vote and given signs representing voting stamps. The rally focused fire on the DPP, as having had eight years continuously in power, and seeking to maintain power in the 2024 legislative and presidential election..

The rally did not call on workers to vote for any specific party and both pan-Blue and pan-Green third parties were present, including the pan-Blue Labor Party and pan-Green New Power Party and Green Party. However, a split in the labor movement in past years has been the question of what stance to take regarding the DPP and KMT.

Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Namely, International Workers’ Day is traditionally one of Taiwan’s two major annual labor demonstrations and is held on May 1st. Autumn Struggle is the other major annual labor demonstration, contrasting to how International Workers’ Day is held in spring, is held in the autumn, or sometimes closer to winter. Nevertheless, in past years, Autumn Struggle has swung heavily KMT, with accusations of co-optation after the 2020 Autumn Struggle was dominated by KMT speakers. During the 2020 Autumn Struggle, the KMT platformed an anti-DPP platform targeting the Tsai administration’s lifting of longstanding barriers on the import of US pork. 2021’s Autumn Struggle, too, was dominated by the KMT.

This proves a substrate of the labor demonstration for International Workers Day, as well. Either way, it is to be seen whether the demands of organized labor will become a major campaign issue in the 2024 legislative and presidential elections or not.

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