The strikes pose one of the biggest crises in South Korean labor since the 1980s, when workers seized on the country's democratization to create one of Asia's most dynamic labor movements. (Photo Credit: Korean Public Service and Transport Workers' Union)
Over the past few weeks, thousands of South Korean transport workers have gone on strike to protest against government “reform” proposals that would make it easier for employers to fire workers, weaken seniority protections won through collective bargaining and privatize some state-owned industries.
The strikes, and the South Korean government’s fierce crackdown on labor, have generated an unprecedented response from global unions over what they see as clear-cut violations of workers’ rights to freedom of association.
“This has become a challenge to the whole international community and is enormously damaging to the Korean government’s international reputation,” Stephen Cotton, general secretary of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), told In These Times.
In Washington, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is having “frequent meetings” with South Korea’s ambassador to discuss his concerns over the situation in Korea, said Cathy Feingold, the federation’s top foreign affairs officer. “We’re very involved.”
The U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, which includes a clause designed to protect labor rights, “is another hook” U.S. unions might use to assist their Korean allies, Feingold said. The protections in that pact, including freedom of association, can be enforced through trade sanctions and fines, but are rarely used.
The strikes pose one of the biggest crises in South Korean labor since the 1980s, when workers seized on the country's democratization to create one of Asia's most dynamic labor movements. In the aftermath of the democratic revolution in 1987, the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) was born out of independent organizing efforts that had been stifled for years in heavy industry, automobiles, transportation and shipbuilding. It is now the second largest union federation in the country.
The latest actions began on October 10, when more than 7,000 owner-operators in trucking joined a national strike against the government’s plan for deregulation of the trucking transport market. The conservative government of President Park Geun-hye responded by declaring the strike illegal, and her transportation minister called the walkout “an act of betrayal” of the nation.
On day one of the strike, more than 4,000 riot police surrounded truckers massed in front of freight depots, including the “New Port” complex in the southern industrial city of Busan, the truckers’ union said. Fifty-five activists were arrested and five injured, the union added. TheYonhap news agency reported that the South Korean military mobilized soldiers to replacestriking truck drivers, effectively transforming them into scabs.
The strikers belong to the “Cargo Truckers Solidarity Division” of the Korean Public Service and Transport Workers’ Union (KPTU) known as TruckSol. Wol-san Liem, the KPTU’s director of international and Korean Peninsula affairs, said that the government responded like it did because of the truckers’ “potential power” as well as their “precarious status as independent contractors.” The truckers’ union is part of the larger KCTU.
Working conditions for Korean truck drivers are dismal.
“They face unreasonable schedules, long hours, multiple levels of subcontracting, and low rates that put them in a really difficult place,” Liem said. “The pressures force them to speed, overload and drive at night for long hours—disastrous to health and family life and also dangerous to other road users.”
She added that problems are compounded because drivers who own their trucks are treated as independent contractors and denied the rights to form and join unions, collectively bargain and strike.
“This means they don’t have legal trade union rights,” Liem said. While it’s not illegal for owner-operators to “collectively refuse to work,” she added, “the government and conservative media try to paint the strike as illegal and our members as a violent mob.”
The truckers’ strike is the latest event in an autumn of industrial actions launched by Korean unions. In late September, other KPTU transport affiliates began a general strike against the government's imposition of performance-related pay and a termination system. Those actions will supposedly align the Korean economy with international practices but in fact provide tools for employers to easily get rid of excess and militant workers.
One of KPTU’s affiliates, the Korean Railway Workers’ Union, has been particularly active in that strike because the government's privatization plans include turning over the country's national rail system to conglomerates called chaebol that already dominate the economy. Rail and subway workers also oppose the imposition of the new merit-based salary system that would make it easier for employers to fire workers who don’t meet certain quotas.
During the rail strike, the KPTU’s Liem said, 165 union officers were suspended from their jobs. Worse, employers filed a lawsuit seeking damages of 165 billion won (about $145 million) from the union and charged 19 union officers with “obstruction,” she said.
Strikes have also taken place in the financial and automobile industries. This month, the union representing workers at Hyundai Motor Company, one of the world’s largest car producers, resumed talks with management “after months of strikes in the automaker’s worst-ever industrial dispute,” the Reuters news agency reported (The talks concluded last week, when 63 percent of Hyundai’s workers voted to accept a new contract).
There was no let-up in transportation strikes, however. Despite the government’s attempt to play down their impact, the Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said on October 10 that more than 40 percent of the roughly 18,000 unionized workers on railroads and subways were taking part in the strike.
“Since the start of the walkout by railway workers, the operation of cargo trains has been reduced to nearly half of the usual level, forcing local firms to depend on cargo trucks to haul their export and import shipments to and from the country's major seaports,” reported Yonhap, which is owned by the government.
Meanwhile, the ITF and Public Services International (PSI), the global federation of public sector workers, have asked the International Labor Organization (ILO) to intervene to ensure that the Park government respects the rights of workers in South Korea to freedom of association.
The strikes in South Korea, the ITF’s Cotton said in an email, “have been triggered by the government ignoring its own laws by imposing drastic new labour practices in the public sector. It is no secret that this is a precursor to the introduction of widespread privatization.” Yet, despite labor’s objections, “every attempt by the unions to seek talks with the government has been rejected.”
Global unions and human rights groups have been particularly angered by the imprisonment of labor leaders in South Korea, including Han Sang-gyun, the president of the KCTU. He was sentenced in July to five years in jail after he was convicted on charges of organizing a massive rally in Seoul last November that was declared illegal by the government.
During that demonstration, an activist, Baek Nam-gi, was knocked to the ground by police water cannons and suffered serious brain injury. His death on September 25—and a stand-off with the government over its attempt to seize Baek’s body for an autopsy—has sparkeddemonstrations and vigils all over the country, and has become a national symbol of the struggle against authoritarian rule and repression.
The ITF and PSI raised the arrests of Han and other union leaders in a joint letter to the ILO in September. “The alarming use of arbitrary detention and judicial harassment against (Korean) trade unionists for organizing and participating in public rallies is a major concern,” the unions wrote in a letter signed by Cotton and PSI General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli. “The ITF and the international union movement will never accept the imprisonment of trade union leaders for legitimate trade union activities,” Cotton added in his email.
The AFL-CIO spoke out in June when it issued a statement in support of the KCTU’s Han. And, in a gesture of solidarity this week, the federation has invited KCTU officials to New York to speak at the United Nations on a recent special rapporteur’s report on freedom of association, the AFL-CIO’s Feingold said. That report, issued in January, criticized “a gradual regression on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly.”
On October 12, as the truckers’ strike heated up in Korea, unions from around the world joined in a global day of solidarity with TruckSol and the Korean strikers. In San Francisco, a protest at the South Korean Consulate was led by United Public Workers for Action, a coalition that seeks to unite workers in the public sector. The campaign can be followed on Twitter at hashtag #KoreanStrikeforJustice.
The global labor movement, the ITF’s Cotton said, will “continue to give every support to workers in South Korea until the government starts to respect international law and enters meaningful negotiations with the unions.”
An Indonesian fisherman’s body dumped at sea, another returned bloodied and emaciated; a domestic helper sexually abused by five employers - two shocking cases that shine a light on the plight of imported workers on the island
Filippino fishermen at Nanfangao harbour near Yilan, Taiwan. Pictures: Paul Ratje
The Fu Tzu Chun set out from Yilan County, Taiwan, late last summer, bound for international waters. Aboard the fishing vessel with the captain and a Taiwanese subordinate were nine Indonesian crew members, only seven of whom would return to port alive.
Despite having lost two crewmen in suspicious circumstances, the ship and its captain are still going to sea and the manpower agency and Taiwanese broker that placed the men on the boat are still recruiting workers from Indonesia. For migrant workers in Taiwan, life is cheap, and can be signed away at the stroke of a pen.
Like his fellow crew members, Supriyanto – in his mid-40s, the eldest of those aboard the Fu Tzu Chun – had signed a contract with a manpower agency in Indonesia. A translated copy provided to Post Magazine suggests such documents are vaguely worded. It states that a crewman can be fined an unspecified amount or fired for misbehaving or making a mistake – those terms left open to the captain’s interpretation – but one clause stands out; if for any reason the crewman should die at sea, the captain is within his rights to dump the body overboard. Supriyanto’s corpse, bloodied and emaciated, would make it back to Taiwan, but for another crewman, that clause would be used to full effect.
Mualip (like Supriyanto and many of his countrymen, he went by just one name) was not yet 30 and his crewman’s licence was due to expire early last November. The circumstances surrounding his death have never been explained by the captain or crew – with no body to examine, it is very likely they will never be known – and it is not clear whether he died before or after Supriyanto, who, according to his autopsy report, perished at 11.10pm on August 25, 2015.
In a mobile-phone video taken by a crewman aboard the Fu Tzu Chun, a gaunt Supriyanto describes the beatings he has received at the hands of his captain and fellow crew. Cuts on his shaved head and across his body were made with fish hooks, he alleges. The video, says the tormented seaman, should be used as evidence in the event of his death.
A few months earlier, Supriyanto had appeared the picture of health. All would-be Indonesian migrant workers must submit to a battery of medical tests in their home country and again once they reach Taiwan. Dated March 30, 2015 and signed by an attending physician, Supriyanto’s check-up shows he was in good health and tested negative across the board.
His autopsy would identify the cause of his death as septic shock due to infection but makes no mention of what could have precipitated the infection. A single sheet of paper filed with the Taiwan Pingtung District Court quietly put Supriyanto’s case to rest.
A screen grab shows Indonesian Supriyanto, who died on board Taiwanese fishing boat Fu Tzu Chun in September 2015.
NUMBERING MORE THAN 600,000, migrant factory workers, domestic caregivers and helpers, and fishermen make up a substantial portion of the workforce in Taiwan, which has a population of 23.5 million. Yet these workers from Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines are not afforded the same level of protection under the law as their Taiwanese counterparts.
Migrant workers who are employed on fishing vessels operating in international waters, for example, and the hundreds of thousands of Filipino domestic helpers on the island are not covered by the Labour Standards Act – the laws governing employer and employee rights – and consequently do not benefit from Taiwan’s minimum-wage regulations or stipulations regarding overtime pay and regular days off. They are thus vulnerable to exploitation.
As an employee of the counselling centre for migrant workers at the Taipei City Department of Labour, Allison Lee Li-hua witnessed their struggles first-hand for years before establishing the Yilan Migrant Fishermen Union. Given that local labour unions are still finding their feet and strikes are rare, getting such an organisation for Taiwanese off the ground would have been difficult enough; this one was for those without citizenship or voting rights.
“Every time they would reject our papers,” says Lee, who spent six months trying to register the union with the Yilan County Government. “The reasons were ridiculous. The ones who handled the case told me they had a lot of pressure from the local people, legislators or lawmakers, county councillors in the local government,” she says, in an interview near Zhongli Station, in Taoyuan, an area to the west of Taipei filled with shops and restaurants catering to migrant workers.
“They had some complaints: ‘Why do you want to allow them to form a union? [Migrant workers] have no rights.’”
Supriyanto lies close to death four months after the video was taken.
Only a handful of lawmakers have voiced support for migrant workers. Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) legislator Lin Shu-fen said in a press conference in June that she had received death threats from brokers over her proposed amendments to Taiwan’s labour laws.
Almost every blue-collar migrant worker currently employed in Taiwan has had to pay for the privilege. Placement fees ranging from US$2,000 to more than US$3,000 are commonly paid to agencies in the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam. And the gouging does not stop there.
Deductions for room and board and monthly service fees for brokers who may or may not actually provide any services are commonplace, as is the overcharging of workers by as much as 200 per cent for services such as rides to and from the airport, to medical check-ups, and picking up of work documents.
Supriyanto’s take-home pay each month should have been US$350, for example. A copy of his pay sheet shows that after deductions taken by his broker, through whom his salary was paid, he was receiving US$100 to US$250 a month.
In the Philippines, placement fees have recently been declared illegal, and a direct hiring programme, by which employers can circumvent the manpower agencies, has been implemented. Nevertheless, most overseas Filipino workers (OFW) still pay a placement fee, and only a handful of migrant workers have been hired directly by Taiwanese employers. Lennon Wong Ying-dah, director of the Serve the People Association (SPA), a non-profit organisation that seeks to help migrant workers who have been exploited, explains why.
The manpower agencies control the training programmes migrant workers, particularly fishermen, are told (often falsely) they have to complete in their home country in order to secure work in Taiwan, he says. Once they have signed on for a training programme, workers usually have to take out a bank loan to pay for it.
Orly, a Filippino migrant fisherman, on a boat in the harbour.
Once the loan has been secured, the worker is essentially trapped within the brokerage system, says Wong. To leave the training programme would be to lose the job before it had even begun. To lose the job would be to default on a loan they would have to pay back regardless of whether they were employed or not.
Further ensnaring the migrant workers is the fact that the agencies that place them in Taiwan and the lending companies that provide them with the funds to pay their way there can be virtually one and the same.
A former employee of one of the largest companies specialising in loans to OFWs alleges that his old company and a Kaohsiung-based agency have the same owner. The ex-employee, who is preparing a legal case and wishes to remain anonymous, says the lending methods of his former employer and companies like it leave already indentured workers drowning in interest demands should they find themselves unable to make their monthly payments. And loan contracts are often presented to OFWs just days before they are due to fly to Taiwan. If they don’t sign, they can’t get on the plane.
“In many cases, if they want to check it carefully, they’re scolded: ‘Just sign! Don’t read it!’” says Wong, during an interview at the SPA’s migrant worker shelter in New Taipei City. “So they are not really sure if they signed something for the loan.”
Wong possesses copies of contracts demanding interest payments that go far beyond Taiwan’s legal limit of 20 per cent per year.
“It’s counted as daily interest,” he says. “So for one year it’s 60-plus per cent, more than three times the legal maximum here.”
The crew’s living quarters on-board.
The manpower agency, which is supposed to protect and serve OFWs and their employers in Taiwan, thus doubles as a kind of collection agency. This is not illegal in Taiwan because, on paper, the two companies are separate entities.
That does not stop lending companies and brokers using threats of violence as they go about their business. Among migrant worker communities, the names of certain brokers who work with manpower agencies in the Southeast Asian sending nations elicit reactions that range from visible shudders to tales told in hushed tones.
One “always threatens the workers, ‘I will kill you and kill your family’”, should they voice concerns about their treatment, says an NGO employee who has testified against the agent and wishes to remain anonymous. Other brokers are allegedly not above sending members of Taiwan’s organised crime syndicates to union offices armed with steel pipes and other weapons in acts of intimidation.
FEMALE HELPERS WORKING in Taiwan’s private homes are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Like their Hong Kong counterparts, they are legally required to live with their employer and are not supposed to work for anyone else (although many are directed to do so by their employer for no extra income). They are subject to a minimum wage of NT$17,000 (HK$4,200) – less than that for the general population – and, after each three-year contract, must leave Taiwan before beginning a new one.
In speaking to many domestic helpers since 2014, this reporter has encountered several common malpractices, including the holding of passports and Alien Resident Certificates (ARC) by employers and brokers, thus hindering any attempt a client might make to get to safety should their work environment prove unsafe.
Allison Lee, founder of the Yilan Migrant Fishermen Union, at Nanfangao harbour.
According to Taiwanese law, a migrant worker who absconds from their job can be declared a runaway after three days. Once these so-called runaways are caught by the authorities, they are subject to deportation. Their broker may then attempt to invoke penalty clauses in their contracts, illegal under Taiwanese law yet still widely included, based on their failure to complete a three-year term of service.
Brokers have been known to use their knowledge of a worker’s home address in the Philippines to make thinly veiled threats of retaliation against them or their family should the worker balk at paying.
Several caregivers and helpers have also spoken of a lack of privacy within their employer’s home, and the many extracontractual responsibilities they have had to shoulder.
Of all the stories of hardship, few are more shocking than that of Annie. During her two years and five months working in Taiwan, Annie – 33 years old at the time of her interview in March and hailing from Manila, the helper wishes to be identified by a pseudonym – had five employers. All, she alleges, victimised her sexually.
She was able to transfer from the home of her first ward, who groped her, after he passed away. The son of her second employer crawled into bed with her one night and made unwanted advances, she says. She called the 1955 hotline for foreign workers and her broker was notified, but he left her waiting outside a 7-Eleven overnight and then called her a liar. She changed brokers.
Lennon Wong heads the Serve the People Association, which runs a small group of shelters in Taoyuan and helps migrant workers who have faced exploitation.
Annie’s third employer, a retired high-ranking soldier, began by touching her private areas, doing so as he asked her to bathe him, despite him being able bodied and capable of washing himself. Later, she alleges, when his Taiwanese-Canadian wife was out of the house, he made a proposition: “For a kiss on the lips, I will give you NT$1,000. If you have sex with me once a month, I will give you NT$5,000. Twice a month, NT$10,000. If [my wife] goes back to Canada, we will live together as boyfriend and girlfriend. Then I will give you money for a house in the Philippines.”
In February 2015, Annie’s new broker arranged for her to leave that house. Deciding against filing criminal charges, she nevertheless received a cash settlement from the man, who, she says, wanted to buy her silence.
Annie’s next employer made a similar proposition – sex for cash. Again she was transferred, but the son of her fifth employer, a man in his early 40s, raped her on no fewer than three occasions, she says, in January and February of 2016.
“I experienced this so many times,” she says, breaking down sobbing. “Even this time I thought it’s still useless to complain. No one will help me.” But the SPA is helping, and a legal case against the alleged rapist is ongoing.
Several of the women staying in shelters that have been set up for migrant workers who have had to flee their jobs – in theory, they can remain in Taiwan while any legal action is pending and their ARC remains valid – say they have been inappropriately touched, propositioned or clandestinely filmed within their rooms or the bathroom, but the true extent of the sexual abuse of domestic helpers is difficult to ascertain.
The fishing industry has its own problems with data. While the number of migrant fishermen on ships operating in international waters (those in domestic waters are subject to different regulations, dictated by a different government body) is officially around 20,000, organisations such as Greenpeace say the number could be as high as 160,000.
“I have submitted 209 cases to [the Fisheries Agency],” says Lee. “They said 150 of them were not registered.”
Filipino fishermen at one of Wong’s shelters say they faced death threats when they questioned their employment broker.
The agency, says Lee, is concerned only with the hiring quotas given to private fishing companies. Where and how the quotas are filled, she says, are of little concern, and spot checks on ships are rare.
Even those employed legally may find themselves engaged in illegal activities. Renante Catalan, 36 and from the Philippines, sometimes found himself working 24 hours straight and soon learned the true nature of his work: smuggling goods to mainland Chinese vessels.
“The fishing was only a front,” he says, playing a video of him and his crew mates aboard a ship operating out of Magong City. “Our main business was selling diesel.”
BY THE YEAR 2025, according to the Ministry of Interior, Taiwan is expected to be a “super-ageing society” – one in which 20 per cent of the population is aged 65 or above. An ever-shrinking workforce coupled with the reticence of educated young people to take on labour-intensive, dirty or dangerous jobs points to a future in which Taiwan will be ever more reliant on migrant workers in its homes, its factories and on its fishing vessels.
In order to import larger numbers of migrant workers, Taipei may have to ensure fairer and more equitable treatment of those who are already employed there. Indonesia, Taiwan’s largest supplier of human capital, has threatened to stop sending workers as soon as 2017 should Taipei fail to raise the minimum wage offered to Indonesians.
Filipino Jasmin Ruas assists migrant workers escaping unfair or abusive employment in a shelter in Yingge, Taiwan.
There were expressions of hope earlier this year, with the election of DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen as president, that the federal government would take a more progressive approach to migrant workers’ rights.
The government has recently announced that a law aimed at protecting the migrant crew members of fishing boats, as well as curbing overfishing, will come into effect on January 15. It remains to be seen how effectively the Distant Water Fisheries Act will be enforced, however.
Beyond that, Tsai’s much-heralded “Southern Facing Policy”, the stated goal of which is to reduce Taiwan’s economic reliance on mainland China and shore up ties with Southeast Asian nations, has failed to offer much support to the island’s migrant workers.
“Already we can see the fake progressive face of the DPP,” says Wong. “Not only the president, they have the majority in the congress. They can pass any laws if they really want.
“Actually, what they are thinking about is to do business. Of course, they might say sometimes, ‘We need to introduce more culture from the Southeast Asian countries.’ And sometimes they do say, ‘Yes, we need to be more friendly to the workers in Taiwan.’ But that’s only an appendix. Their focus is always money.”
And it’s money – or the lack of it – that reinforces stereotypes that are proving hard to shake.
Elisa Chang Jeng-yi, 23, works with the One-Forty Foundation in Taipei City, a small non-profit organisation that seeks to empower migrant workers and eliminate negative stereotypes.
“In my opinion,” says Chang, of the reasons why such stereotypes exist, “it’s because of the economic status of those countries. They are less wealthy compared to Taiwan. We would never look down on Singaporeans because they’re richer than Taiwanese. So why don’t we look down on Singaporeans but we do look down on Thais or Filipinos or Indonesians?”
Indonesian migrant workers celebrate Eid at Taipei Main Station.
For Wong and Lee, the key to better treatment for migrant workers lies in direct-hiring programmes and the gradual phasing out of the current brokerage system.
The unions are still small. The Yilan Migrant Fishermen Union has just 158 members. Lee hopes, though, that the modest monthly dues collected from its members (far less than the service fees they pay to brokers), will allow her organisation to hire permanent staff and perhaps even pay her a modest salary. For the time being, she lives off the generosity of friends.
Jasmin Ruas, a former chairwoman of Migranteng Kababaihan Sa Taiwan (MKT), a rights group run by young Filipino women working in Taiwan and which plans to formerly unionise this year, says education is their greatest weapon.
“[American abolitionist] Harriet Tubman said you can free thousands of slaves if they know that they are a slave, so that’s still the mission of MKT.”
THANKS TO A TIP-OFF from a friend working as a courthouse interpreter, Allison Lee found out about the closing of Supriyanto’s case late last year. She took up the investigation herself, travelling to Indonesia to collect documents and other evidence.
Lee took this evidence to the Control Yuan, the investigatory agency that oversees the other government branches. The Control Yuan in turn brought the evidence to the attention of the Judicial Yuan, which has indicated Supriyanto’s case will be reopened at an as yet unspecified date.
This post is indebted to Huynh Ngoc Chenh’s Vietnamese language blog. Other sources will be linked.
Update: Part one features a translations of Nguyen Anh Tuan analysis of the protest. Part two is a description of the day’s events culled from a number of news agencies, blogs, and facebook profiles. Part three features a look at the state news agency and pro-state facebook response to the demonstration.
Part one: Nguyen Anh Tuan “Forget Formosa, worry about the capitol”
“Less than 36 hours after the government announced the plans for compensation, this morning saw close to 10,000 indignant people from Ky Anh surround the Formosa Ha Tinh industrial area.
Police and military- just as in the other protests, at first violently repressed the protesters. However when they saw that the number of participants was much too large, they broke ranks and fled. Many soldiers stripped their uniforms off in order to escape being discovered, they more than understood that in the eyes of the people they were protecting Formosa- the criminals that directly caused the devastation of the people.
Throughout this whole time, more than a dozen times, I warned that a protest like this, or even bigger, was going to happen. Because, in all the mistakes the government has made in dealing with this situation, they made three vital errors:
They prevented civil society organizations from participating in the process to remedy the consequences of the disaster. There is no government in the world strong enough to discover and remedy all the problems of the victims in a disaster. Only the thousands of different civil society groups, tucked into each of the small communities in a disaster area, addressing the needs of the different groups: fisherman, women, students, merchants, the youth.. Only then can you help blow of the steam of aggravation built up in society. But the government prevented the officially registered NGOs from helping the victims. They used the security forces to arrest, beat, and threaten the self organized civil society groups in the disaster area. If the government wishes to keep all of the disaster remediation to itself, then it must accept these protests, it can’t be otherwise.
The second mistake that put the government in a perilous position was their propaganda operations on VTV, state news, and the pages of various undercover internet propagandists (dự luân viên lit. public opinion employees). Their strategy was to offend the spiritual leader of the religious peoples in the disaster area: Bishop Nguyen Thai Hop.
The straw that broke the camel’s back of the local people’s indignation was precisely the reparation plan that the government just announced. According to this plan, the levels of compensation are not only low but only last six months, not even taking notice of how the people should live afterwards. This is no different from selling out the people’s future for a meagre sum taken from the dividends of the Formosa corporation so they can remain.
If the government doesn’t give the people a future, then they have to find one themselves, through closing down Formosa at all costs.
If the government doesn’t help the people find justice, then they have to find their own justice, through the legal war that they are waging, or moreover by so damaging the company that they have to shut down themselves.
Finally, if government doesn’t protect the dignity of the people, then the people will have to stand up and take their dignity for themselves, by way of showing that they are able to do anything and go to any extreme.
Therefore, if there is anything left to say to the government, it is: “You ought to abandon Formosa and begin worrying about the capitol” — Nguyen Anh Tuan
PART TWO: THE EVENTS
According to Saigon Broadcasting Network, at around 8:20 am more than 5,000 people had gathered in front of the Formosa factory gates from the Dong Yen, Tay Yen, Quy Hoa, and Du Loc parishes of Ky Anh township. Lead by Father Tran Dinh Lai, protestors carried banners demanding that “Formosa get out”, “We demand the indictment of Formosa and their clique”, “We the people need clean water, clean fish, and clear air”, “We demand that the government stand with the people”, and “Why are the police protecting Formosa?”
This drone footage shows the beginning of the protest, as news spread the size of the crowd increases by a factor of ten
Son Van Le’s facebook claims over 10,000 people, also noting that “the whole diocese is there”. Following the progression of events on his page, its appears the Catholic involvement continues to be crucial, with nuns and priests in attendence.
According to Mạc Lâm from Radio Free Asia, “Just after 10am, a few people climbed over the gate. A couple fights broke out, causing the security and riot police to retreat deep into the Formosa complex. At the main gates, both the security forces and riot police retreated into the complex after the crowd grew to around 8 thousand people. Some of the people climbed atop the roof of the security shed and waved flags demanding that Formosa leave Vietnam. The loud speakers continuously reminded us “We aren’t going in, we will only repeat our slogans with our demands. If we go inside we will encounter difficulties in our peaceful struggle.”
Nevertheless videos show that some protesters made it inside and gave chase to the police.
Possibly in response to police batons [above], protesters overran the walls of the main gate [below].
After overcoming the wall, the crowd chases the fleeing police while hurling rocks.
Again according to SBN at 11:30 the people at the main gates left, although many remained at the other gates.
Part 3: Pro-government reaction
The pro-state reaction to the protests has been, predictable, another iteration of the tried and true strategy of blaming domestic issues on the gullibility of the common people in the face of a foreign treachery. Comrade Commissar may be the first prominent page to share the photograph of demonstrators scaling the wall while pointing out the prominence of Catholic flags and questioning whether their “God teaches his followers to bring the enemy into the house?” The profile rhetorically answers its own question, saying “No, because god loves his children and doesn’t want them to kill each other. To borrow the words of a traitor, ‘believe in god but don’t believe what the representatives of god say. Religion is religion but the fatherland first.” A clumsy reference to Nguyen Van Thieu’s oft repeated admonition about the the duplicity of communists, coupled to a clearly erroneous perception of the teaching of the Catholic Church, is combined with assertions of preemptive protester violence [below], in order to discredit the grievances of demonstrators.
This line of reasoning was echoed in the Viet Tan Do facebook page, who shared the photos of father Dang Huu Nam apparently leading the protests. Viet Tan Do asks, “Why the hell are they letting him be so extravagant? He’s relying on the name of god to overthrow the regime, he’s instigating a riot dirtying the name of Jesus. God never taught us to protest, god didn’t tell us to cause disturbances. […] I hope that American style democracy is applied here.” Linking to this video of American police beating women to emphasise American hypocrisy. A commenter in another group shared a picture [below] of the priest alongside two young men wearing fish bone shirts, implying that they are participants in the “People want live fish” meme, which is itself a play on an acronym for “Mother fuckcommunism” [DMCS]. A group associated with foreign ‘reactionaries’.
Finally, state media seems to have been prepared ahead of time, the website Ha Tinh 24 hour news publishing a story titled “Shattering a plot from the dangerous elements trying to take advantage of the Formosa tragedy to cause rioting”. Not many details are provided beyond the title. There was a plan, it was stopped. The people saw through the evil plot and knew better than to cause disorder in their locale.
This follows the prior pattern of blaming the urban fish protests on Viet Tan (the reform party), an overseas organization considered a terrorist group by the Vietnamese government.