Thursday, November 29, 2012

Strike: A 'four' letter word in Singapore

We are creatures of PAP's social engineering. 

I used to think that we have become cowards in being afraid to question authority.  The last general elections in 2011 successfully lifted the fear out of the hearts of many Singaporeans.  It has been gratifying to witness the transformation of Singaporeans from a once fearful population into a group of people that question the rationale of government policies.  But, I have to admit I was stumped when I read the reaction of many Singaporeans (online and offline) to the strike by the SMRT bus drivers. 

Many Singaporeans were calling for tough action.  Some were ridiculing the media (and the mainstream media deserves the ridicule) for failing to identify the action of the bus drivers as a strike.  Much of this ridicule of the failure to use the word 'strike' was with the subtext of how foreigners were getting away with the breaking of our laws.  Many were calling for these foreigners to be punished.  Perhaps, it was just the hatred of persons from China.  Perhaps, it was just the need to use any negative news against the ruling party (and thereby questioning the failure to act in a strict fashion against foreigners when locals are handled harshly). 

Or perhaps, we have just become so accustomed to the PAP constructed reality that we think that a strike is necessarily a bad thing.  Some of the posts seem to indicate as such (referring to the social harmony that we have worked hard to build).  Well, a couple of hundred transport workers going on strike would not bring our nation to its knees or result in widespread chaos and disarray.  But, judging from the reaction of some Singaporeans, one would get the impression that a 'strike' is, in its very nature, destablising. 

I remember thumbing through my niece's primary school textbook where references to the Hock Lee Bus riots are made.  At the end of that chapter, there is a kind of self-assessment question about what the student understands a strike to be.  I asked my niece what she thinks is a strike.  Her reply was that it would involve breaking shop windows and burning things.  It is entirely possible that this is the general impression that runs through the minds of many people.  Of course, there are many that do understand that a strike is just stoppage of work. 

There also appears to be another variant whereby strikes are recognised for what they are.  But, it is viewed that the consequences of a strike must necessarily be economically debilitating.  It is true that strikes worldwide have had a crippling effect for a short period of time and as a result inconvenienced many people.  However, these instances have been sufficiently spread out and prudently and responsibly managed by trade unions to avoid long-term destabilisation of the economy.  (Singapore's own zero strike approach ends up on the other end of the spectrum where workers' rights can be effectively trampled upon as these are sacrificed and offered up on the altar of corporate profits.)

I wonder if the hesitation of the journalists from mainstream media to label the actions of the bus drivers as a strike had anything to do with this extreme conditioning of our society whereby a strike is always associated with something that is chaotic and destabilising.  All the other words that they used in substitution of the word 'strike' still described what would constitute a strike.  So, why did they avoid the word in the first place?  Maybe it was just plain ignorance of the meaning of that word.  Maybe it was a hesitation that was born out of knowing that 'strike' came within the ambit of things that were beyond the OB markers.  Maybe, being a mouthpiece for the government, they were waiting for the 'green light' from the authorities before using this 'sensitive' word.   (Rather comically, an article by Teo Xuan Wei in Todayonline explained the reason for the media's avoidance of the word 'strike' by referring to the explanation given by the Minister for Manpower )

In the end, we must not forget that a strike is essentially an 'economic' offence. 


Anonymous said...

It's a fallacy that strikes and industrial action will frighten away foreign investors.

Most of our foreign investors come from Western advanced economies where industrial action is a common occurence, and a workers'right.

It is absurd to believe that a strike by 100 bus drivers over, among other complaints, bed bugs in dormitories will cause the likes of Shell, Exxon, HP etc. to stop investing here.

The same bogeyman of strikes and industrial harmony etc. has been used for decades to keep workers in line. The NTUC is not a trade union, it is an appendage of the PAP and their leaders are not trade unionists but PAP party commissars.

Anonymous said...

I did ask the question of how fair a justice system of a country is if people living in it are not aware of the laws of the land. Now, wouldn't that be even more pertinent with respect to foreigners? Were the drivers briefed well on these laws before they signed the contracted?

Lukas said...

They knew it was a strike - not anything else. When things become too hot to handle, they fall back to using words like "industrial harmony" to paint a utopia of workers in a heavenly union with private powers.

Such desperation. Such inanity.

chang! said...

Just call it a strike. Thereafter when the facts are gathered, to ascertain if it is legal or illegal. Well, the MSMs had to wait for orders from the Executive.