The task of taking our mainstream (often compliant) press to task is an unenviable one. You get people questioning your motives, warning you of repercussions, and sometimes chiding you for being such an ungrateful brat towards our forefathers.
Given a choice, I don’t think any sane person would do it. That’s not an admission of insanity, by the way. Like they always say, it’s a dirty job but somebody’s gotta do it.
The unholy trinity
Labour Day isn’t called May Day for nothing. But if there is any cry for help by workers in Singapore, chances are they will be conveniently ignored.
Unsympathetic policy makers, who constantly remind Singaporeans not to expect “hand-outs” (in the words of Straits Times writer, Chua Lee Hong), coupled with a labour union (headed by a cabinet minister and a member of the ruling party) that is all too willing to go to bed with the government, are threatening to do Singaporeans in.
Why? Because of the much trumpeted tripartite labour relations in Singapore by the PAP. In a May Day statement signed by Workers’ Party (WP) chief Sylvia Lim, the WP said that while the tripartite model appeared attractive in theory, in practice “the upper hand of management and the government” ensured that workers bore the brunt of the pain during bad times.
However, in a news report, “PM raps WP’s views on labour ties” (ST, May 2), Singapore’s outgoing prime minister Goh Chok Tong ticked off Lim by saying: “Sylvia Lim, I understand, is just in her early 30s, born after Singapore’s independence, so she did not know first hand the industrial strife that took place in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s a crazy idea trying to destroy what has worked in the interest of the workers through our tripartite relations.”
Using shallow argument to belittle your critics is not the way to go, Mr Goh. Firstly, one does not need to physically exist in a particular era to learn or appreciate the lessons taught us by history. Otherwise, what is the purpose of teaching the subject in schools? Secondly, what has worked in the past is not guaranteed to work in the present or future. If all we learn through history is to repeat old formulas, we will never seek to improve ourselves and will probably continue to make the same mistakes over and over again.
Goh, however, maintained that the tripartite relationship between the government, employers and workers is the reason why Singapore can implement wage reforms without causing major social upheavals. But therein lies the problem. There will come a time when the needs of workers are at odds with unpopular wage reforms, and this is precisely the time when real labour representation is necessary, not one burdened by a “symbiotic relationship” between labour movement and the ruling party.
In recent months, we have witnessed how workers were asked to make financial sacrifices, including taking pay cuts and accepting CPF cuts regardless of the company’s profit situation. But that’s to be expected because of the so-called “symbiotic relationship”. Since unions are government-affiliated and managed directly or indirectly by officials who retain strong ties with the government and employers, they will only make a half-hearted attempt to fight for workers’ rights.
At the May Day rally last month, Goh acknowledged the symbiotic relationship, saying the PAP and National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) were “brother organisations”. To put it more accurately, I think the tripartite arrangement is like the relationship between the brothel owner (government), the pimp (NTUC), and the prostitutes (workers). Guess who will be on the short end of the bargain?