The Taiwan initiative of the IWW has been coming to terms with the political situation in Taiwan. There is a tug-of-war here between Chinese and American influences that captivates the youth of the island and distracts them from the basic problem: a paucity of good jobs, all at low pay, all without union protection.
Organizing for the One Big Union in Taiwan has been an education since I was made a delegate in September 2013 and entrusted with the goal of starting a Regional Organizing Committee (ROC) in Asia based in Taiwan.
With referrals From GST Sam, I sought out and met two young college students who were signed up by the Perth, Australia branch. In addition, I was referred to an interested education worker in Northern Taiwan who referred me to another interested worker in Southern Taiwan. I traveled from my central location to meet both men and issue Red Cards. In addition, I contacted an activist friend I had met ten years earlier who introduced me to student activists that worked in his café. They were not interested in starting a union and the two activists from Perth didn’t show their Red Cards. The education workers paid one month dues and ceased contact. The organizing campaign reached a dead end.
In Taiwan, despite low wages stuck at a sixteen year old rate, overwork, and unsafe working conditions, both older and younger workers are reluctant to organize into unions. The older workers lived through a brutal thirty-seven years of martial law from the U.S. supported dictatorship. The younger workers grew up with neo-liberal two-party market capitalism where independent unions were restricted. The ruling class embedded sweetheart unions with special privileges as a way of controlling the work force, stifling labor unrest, and insuring voter sympathy.
Student activism falls into two basic camps; pro-China or laissez-faire U.S. influence. There is a small group of student activists leaning towards Taiwan independence. Unionism equals radical communism because of fear-mongering from propaganda against a China take-over or U.S. anti-worker capitalism. Pro-China student activists condemn the WTO and sweatshops but generally don’t see clear to support union solidarity as a remedy. Other students have bourgeois tendencies.
Where does that leave the pro-union anarcho-syndicalism of the IWW in Taiwan? Even less than the IWW in the U.S. has been able to influence the Occupy Wall Street movement because of the split camps of pro-China and pro U.S. For many bad reasons, old and young oppressed workers in Taiwan cannot or will not make the connection that organizing themselves in their workplace is the only way to start addressing the dilemma of top-down management.
A delegate for the IWW should organize with his fellow workers his or her own work place. As a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, I am faced with the handicap of organizing a transient workforce of ex-pats who rarely stay on the job long enough to organize. Another problem I have as a delegate of the IWW in Taiwan is that I am a sixty-year-old immigrant of European descent; there is prejudice and suspicion about me. Even though I speak Mandarin Chinese, I am still seen as an outsider by most Taiwanese. An organizer who is indigenous to Taiwan stands a better chance of being successful here. There are many handicaps we must overcome before a Regional Organizing Committee can take hold in Taiwan and Asia.
|Speaking at Wisteria Tea House in Taipei workshop:"How to Start a Teachers' Union."|
It will be very difficult to succeed in promoting organizing workers in Taiwan and Asia without indigenous delegates. To address the issues inhibiting union solidarity and organizing in Taiwan, your delegate proposes to do the following:
1. Find a Taiwanese group or political party to bore into that will appreciate the goals of the IWW union organizing effort.
2. Continue promoting the OBU on the internet in www.taIWWan.blogspot.tw digest of worker actions in Taiwan. I have received over eight thousand hits worldwide.
3. Continue the community Facebook page of taIWWan. We have over eight hundred friends supporting our efforts worldwide.
4. Post to local Facebook pages articles that will raise the consciousness of English speaking workers here in hopes of building a support group to form an ROC.
5. Continue offering free workshops on “How to Start Your Own Union.”
6. Continue offering a free progressive lending library to the community.
7. Promote my website www.readingsandridings.jimdo.com where readers can access my proletarian creative writing and blogs, including www.iww.org.
8. Keep GHQ informed of developments in Taiwan IWW organizing, receive and follow up on referrals from GHQ of fellow workers in the Asian/Taiwan theatre.
Most importantly to our organizing campaign here is finding indigenous fellow workers willing to organize themselves and fellow workers into a union with the IWW. As it is illegal to organize a union without thirty workers in a shop and approval from the Ministry of Labor, clandestine union organizing campaigns must be stressed. Your delegate must be able to meet indigenous workers with fire and guts to improve their working conditions and compensation at the grass root level and to grieve unfair labor practices. I believe this can be done.
The following issues act as obstructions to union organizing in Taiwan:
1. Minimum wage is to low; there is no living-wage.
2. Tipping is prohibited or collected and kept by the boss.
3. Overtime work is not compensated in family businesses; rules are not enforced.
4. Year-end bonuses are used to entrap workers into compliance with unfair workplace conditions.
5. Only government approved unions may be organized.
6. A workplace must have at least 30 employees to file to unionize.
7. Hooligans harass workers attempting to unionize.
8. Ex-pat worker community is transient; foreigners may not unionize or participate in public demonstrations or face deportation.
At the end of 2013, it seemed possible to establish an R.O.C. in Taiwan; I had signed up two American residents, we had the two Taiwanese members who had joined in Perth, Australia and they had brought two more interested activists to the two monthly meetings I held in Taipei. In addition, I had visited with my old activist friend and met the college student activists who were working at his café. Then reality hit. The two Taiwanese who joined in Perth never showed their Red Cards or paid dues. Their comrades were in a China unification group and not interested in grass root organizing. My old activist friend was working for the neo-liberal Democratic Progress Party (DPP) and not interested in labor union organizing, either. By February 2014, it became clear to me that forming an R.O.C. wasn’t going to be that easy.
In March, 2014, hundreds of students and demonstrators occupied the legislative chamber in Taipei. One of the leading speakers was the young man introduced to me by my old activist friend a few months earlier. As thousands of supporters gathered on the streets outside the chamber, the leaders of the so-called “Sunflower Movement” outlined their demands:
“We do not want to see young people still living on a NT$22,000 salary (Note: *32 Taiwan dollars = $1.00 U.S. dollar)10 years from now,” the statement read. “In the future, Taiwanese small and medium-sized enterprises will face challenges from competition with Chinese-invested companies that have abundant capital and use vertically integrated business models,” it said. The demonstration was against a Taiwan-China service trade pact.
The protesters ignored the exploitation already existent in Taiwan for sixty-seven years since the U.S. began to use the KMT’s “Free China” as a puppet for business and military interests. The DPP used the takeover as a political tool to condemn the ruling class detente with the Chinese government and re-gain power in the Nov. 2014 election.
This ends my report of IWW and labor activities in Taiwan in 2014.
For One Big Union,
Del. # 13-3235