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.
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.