Tag Archives: labour movement

How to access my publications

Giles Ji Ungpakorn


The Failure of Stalinist Ideology and the Communist Parties of Southeast Asia (1998). https://bit.ly/1OEfsJo 


Thailand: Class Struggle in an Era of Economic Crisis (1999).   http://bit.ly/2kPNX9E  Book about the Thai labour movement.


From the city, via the jungle, to defeat: the 6th Oct 1976 bloodbath and the C.P.T. http://bit.ly/1TKgv02   or   http://bit.ly/2d1iZbj


A Coup for the Rich (2007).  https://www.scribd.com/doc/41173616/Coup-For-the-Rich-by-Giles-Ji-Ungpakorn or http://bit.ly/2aE7zc6  Book written in response to the 2006 military coup.


Why have most Thai NGOs chosen to side with the conservative royalists, against democracy and the poor (2009).   http://bit.ly/1UpZbhh


Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy (2010).  http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs  Book written during the continued crisis of democracy.

Red Yellow

Thai Spring? Structural roots of the Thai political crisis (2011). http://bit.ly/245WxhD

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Lèse Majesté, the Monarchy, and the Military in Thailand (2011) http://bit.ly/1cLbFtr or http://bit.ly/2cexlW1


The Festering Sore: Thai State Crimes Go Unpunished (2012)   http://bit.ly/1qGYT9r


The Bloody Civil War in Patani (2013) http://bit.ly/2bemah3


The role of Thai Social Movements in Democratisation (2015). http://bit.ly/2aDzest


What led to the destruction of Thai democracy? (2016). http://bit.ly/2cmZkAa or http://bit.ly/2bSpoF2


Thai Military Re-adjusts its Relationship with the Monarchy (2017).  http://bit.ly/2xGDiSu Paper which looks at the role of the military and the monarchy after Pumipon. Also discusses the 20 year National Strategy for “Guided Democracy”.


Thailand’s abortion law needs to be changed

Numnual Yapparat & Giles Ji Ungpakorn

The participation of women in Thai society is reasonably high compared to some other Asian countries. Women have always been part of the workforce in rural and urban areas. Many women can be found in leadership positions in trade unions, social movements and NGOs. Women are also highly active in the modern labour force and in small and medium sized businesses. However, as with most countries throughout the world, despite the constitution stipulating equal gender rights, Thai women are still second-class citizens, subjected to a sexist ideology, subjected to domestic violence and expected to take a dominant role in caring for family members.

The second class status of women is reflected in language. Women are expected to refer to themselves as “Nu”, a term also used by children. It means “little mouse”. In fact the Thai language is extremely hierarchical with different terms used for people depending on their status in the pecking order of society.

The fact that Yingluk Shinawat became Thailand’s first woman Prime Minister was full of contradictions. On the one hand she enjoyed mass popular support from a population who did not think that a woman could not be in such a leadership position. But she was also the sister of Taksin Shinawat and therefore part of his family. There are many such parallels in other Asian countries.

The women’s movement in Thailand is weak and conservative, concentrating on issues that have little impact upon most women such as the number of women members of parliament, irrespective of their politics, or the number of women business leaders. These women’s groups also joined the anti-democracy movement in the past.

In recent times, the trade union movement has had the greatest role in advocating women’s rights and has won important improvements like maternity leave. Some sections of the trade union movement are also campaigning for the right to abortion on demand, something that has been ignored by most middle-class activists.

Abortion severely restricted in Thailand because women have to convince clinicians that their physical or mental health will suffer from an unwanted pregnancy. Many clinicians are conservative and seek to impose their moral judgments on women who need abortions. Even when there are clinics or a few hospital which are willing to perform abortions, workers or the rural poor need to raise large sums of money. It is very difficult for ordinary women to access free and safe abortions. Many women are therefore put at risk from visiting back street abortionists.

In the past there have been attempts to liberalise the Thai abortion law, especially after the 14th October 1973 uprising and later in the 1980s. One of the leaders of the anti-abortion campaign in Thailand was Chamlong Srimuang, a leading yellow shirt activist who called for and supported the military coup which overthrew Taksin’s elected government.

Abortion is about democracy and human rights.

Abortion is a class issue because it is working class and poor women who cannot access free and safe abortions. It is also an issue which affects young people who are more at risk of unwanted pregnancies.

With all the talk about new political parties and the need for a party of the new generation. The inclusion of a policy to liberalise Thailand’s abortion law will be a measure of the real progressive nature of such a party.

The militarisation of labour relations

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

As we approach the end of 2017 we are seeing another aspect of the militarisation of Thai society.

The end of the year is traditionally a time when workers look forward to bonuses, which are essential additions to their low wages. Most workers rely on these bonuses as an integral part of their annual wages in order to survive. Since the military overthrew the Yingluk government in 2014, the junta have been forcing down wages by refusing to adequately increase the minimum wage. The Yingluk government had previously made a significant increase to the minimum wage rate, even though this was still not enough to provide ordinary working people with a decent living. The military junta has said that it will carry on the policy of decreeing different minimum wage levels for different provinces, something which is designed to keep down wages in the interests of the bosses.

Immediately after Prayut’s coup, and also after the 2006 coup, military personnel were stationed outside key factories which had strong trade union organisations with reputations for pro-democracy struggles.

Lately there have been two disputes over bonus payments, resulting in mass meetings and factory gate protests. The first one was at Fujikura Electronics factories in a number of different provinces. The second dispute was at Triumph underwear factories. Triumph has a long history of strong trade union activity, although in recent times the union has been weakened by the victimisation of key activists. [See http://bit.ly/2kPNX9E ]

In the case of Triumph, the employers broke an agreement with the union to pay the end of year bonus.

What is noticeable is that the military have been involved in both disputes, blatantly intervening under the age-old excuse of “national security”. Of course the presence of security forces was not to ensure that the employers kept to their agreements or treated their employees fairly.

At Triumph the military were photographed sitting in on negotiations between the union and the employees.

In addition to this, the present minister of Labour is a military general.

Minister of Labour

All this has echoes of the militarisation of labour relations under the Suharto dictatorship in Indonesia. This was carried out under the “dwifungsi” doctrine of the military having a double function of defending the country and also intervening in politics and society.

Vedi Hadiz, wrote in his book, “Workers and the state in new order Indonesia”, that the involvement of security organisations in labour matters was legitimised by the characterisation of industrial disputes as a threat to national stability. This military intervention in labour disputes was supported by law under the Suharto dictatorship. Local military dominated committees in each region were created in order to control labour disputes and the workings of trade unions. The Minister of Manpower was often also a military officer.

The situation in Suharto’s Indonesia was worse than what we currently see in Thailand under Prayut’s dictatorship, but there are significant similarities in terms of the militarisation of society. I have also posted an article on this site comparing the Thai “National Strategy” with the use of Pancasila under Suharto. [See http://bit.ly/2l63Z1I ]. Pancasila was also used as an enforced “guide” to labour relations in order to weaken trade union struggles.

If we do not put a stop to this creeping militarisation of Thai society, there can never be freedom and democracy.

The Chronic Problem of Single-Issue Politics

Giles Ji Ungpakorn

Single-issue politics has been a chronic problem which has dogged the Thai movements for many years. The root cause of this debilitating disease started with the collapse of the Stalinist communist parties and the rejection of what the Post Modernists and Anarchists called “Grand Political Theories or Narratives”.

When the Communist Party of Thailand collapsed in the mid-1980s, activists turned towards single-issue campaigns along with a rejection of politics and the need to overthrow the repressive state. They may have kidded themselves that they could somehow turn their backs on the state or steer a path round the state, as advocated by people such as John Holloway or Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, but reality they just transformed themselves into NGO lobbyists. These NGO activists were happy to lobby anyone in power, irrespective of whether they were democratically elected or military juntas. They also ignored the politics of the powerful elites and rejected the idea of class.

Therefore Thai NGO activists, who called themselves “the peoples’ movement”, enthusiastically lobbied Taksin’s government. When the Taksin government out-manoeuvred them with its pro-poor policies and also threatened them with mild repression, they became disenchanted with Taksin. As a result they chose to make an alliance with the most backward and conservative elements among the powerful elite, forming the royalist yellow-shirt “Peoples’ Alliance for Democracy”. They celebrated when the military eventually overthrew Taksin in the 2006 military coup. Some members of international NGOs based in Thailand, such as “Focus on Global South”, supported this reactionary position. The Thai NGOs continued along this path, trying to work with or lobby various dictatorships and some even joined with Sutep Tuaksuban’s anti-democratic mob.

Lately the NGOs have become “disappointed” in the junta’s reforms. What a farce!

The NGOs may or may not have learnt a lesson about supporting the destruction of democracy, but most have not given up their single-issue politics. Some of the recent NGO critics of the junta’s draft constitution, especially those concerned with health issues, have merely concentrated on their own single issues in their opposition. Instead they should be combining a general analysis about the destruction of democracy with a multitude of concrete issues to build a big picture criticism of the junta’s plans. This big picture analysis should go beyond the crude listing of all the various single issues in one place, as NGO coordinating networks tend to do. It should explain why all the issues are linked to the political and economic system. In terms of the present draft military constitution links must be made to military rule and the destruction of democracy since 2006.

When I was involved with the Thai Social Forum in Bangkok in 2006 I and my comrades tried to promote the inter-linking of various issues but experienced stiff resistance from most Thai NGOs.

The problem of “single-issue cretinism” is not confined to just some NGOs. On International Workers’ Day this year the “New Democracy Movement” issued an 8 point statement about why workers should reject the constitution. It was a dumbed-down document which merely talked about workers’ bread and butter issues. It failed to mention the attack on the universal health care system, presumably because they thought it was “nothing to do with workers” who have their own national insurance scheme. Yet workers’ families rely on the universal health care system. The worst offence by the “New Democracy Movement” was a failure to mention the problem of prolonging the dictatorship and the destruction of democracy. It was like they assumed that workers were too stupid to understand general big-picture politics.

The labour movement in Thailand contains progressive groups who have a big picture analysis of politics and have already rejected the military junta. Yet the “New Democracy Movement” ignored them and chose instead to take up a position alongside the most backward elements of the labour movement who reject or ignore politics.

This is such a shame because the “New Democracy Movement” has a good record of organising anti-dictatorship events, the latest of which, was the recent march to the democracy monument on the anniversary of Prayut’s coup.

One aspect of the NGO-style single-issue disease is that the former leadership of the railway workers union also supported the yellow-shirts and celebrated the 2006 military coup because they hated Taksin. But now the military have turned on them, threatening sections of the railways with privatisation. Of course, Taksin would have done the same as the military, but there was no excuse for the support given to the reactionaries.

Political theories and strategies have real concrete effects. It is not just an academic debate.

We need a revolutionary Marxist party in Thailand that can act as a bridge to link all the various single bread and butter issues with a class analysis of Thai capitalism in order to agitate for fundamental change. Such a party would also be at the forefront of building a mass social movement to get rid of the military. This is something we are trying to do, but so far the progress is painfully slow.

Further Reading

http://bit.ly/1UpZbhh On Thai NGOs and their politics

http://bit.ly/1TdKKYs  “Thailand’s Crisis and the Fight for Democracy”