Friday, May 01, 2009

May Day 2009 - Accountability the Core Value

I have decided to write about one very important aspect of a TRUE Democracy, Accountability. What has it got to do with Labor Day?

During the ancient time when Democracy was not even heard of, feudal land lords enslaved the peasants by imposing high rental for farm lands. It happened both in the Eastern as well as Western World.

Democracy come with a heavy price, mostly pushed by the movement to liberalize enslaved peasants and slaves. Thus, Labor Rights has everything to do with the evolution of Democracy throughout history. It is only with the success of implementing Democracy on their land, workers and peasants alike could get their rights protected. Of course, the communist movement also utilized such attractive idea of liberalism and labor rights to gain trust and support from the masses to mount on revolutionary armed struggle. But history has proven that a balanced Democracy that takes care of both the capitalists as well as the workers would be more prosperous and stable than an authoritarian communist regime.

But what is Democracy? The most simplistic idea is having elections. But we must bear in mind that even in an authoritarian communist regime, there are elections and voting as well, though not necessary an universal suffrage. There are a few key core values of Democracy like balance of power because power tends to corrupt human beings and representation of popular will and voices. But ultimately, I think it is mainly about accountability of the ruling class to the citizens.

During the ancient time, feudal lords, kings, emperors or the ruling class did not need to be accountable to the people they ruled. Elections is just means to get the ruling class to become accountable to the people but it does not necessary always work well especially so when the vital tools like media, needed to ensure fair play are being manipulated or even monopolized.

The result of an ill-democratic society will eventually leads to a skewed focus of the ruling class in taking care more of the rich and powerful instead of the mass, mainly working class. The ruling class will find less incentive or need to be accountable to the masses but would be more willing to oblige to the demands made by the rich and powerful. The problem will aggravate when rich individuals get into politics or send lobbyists as proxy representatives in the circle of ruling class.

Such problems exist in many countries, not only Singapore. It even happens in US where powerful lobbyists of the rich are stationed and worked on the lawmakers, ministers as well as the White House. But the more open nature of the society and political system has somehow managed to keep the whole system under a delicate balance.

There are many aspects in Singapore where we could see how the PAP government has skewed towards the business sector instead of taking care of the workers. First of all, workers are always asked to make sacrifices when things do not turn out well. When productivity growth lags behind wage growth, the PAP government would ask workers to have lower wage increase or even pay cut. But it does not apply the same principle to rent extracted by the landlords in which the government as well as GLCs are the biggest landlords in Singapore. Rent has increased in an incredible momentum which could reach as high as 50% or even 80% increase within a couple of years. Nothing has been mentioned or done with such unrealistic increase of rent across Singapore which ultimately will translate into higher cost of living and doing business in Singapore.

While the PAP government would subject itself to the big business demand for more cheap labor substitutes from foreign countries, it has never shown any concerns on the impact in wage stagnation in Singapore. While horrendous high rent and increase of GST take their tolls on cost of living for all Singaporeans, wages of workers are suppressed by the extra-liberal Foreign workers policy.

When time is good, Singaporeans do not enjoy much of the fruits in terms of higher wages due to the wage suppression by huge import of foreign workers. We were told that they are needed to keep Singaporeans' jobs! But when the economy went down, Singaporeans bear the full brunt of the downturn, most of them become the FIRST TO FIRE brigade. Companies, especially huge MNCs and GLCs would fire local Singaporeans first instead of the cheaper foreign workers!

And the truth is, PAP government is more worried about the profitability of the businesses instead of empty stomach of those retrenched! While they would put up all sorts of relief measures to companies through wage subsidies (the job credit) but not a systematic welfare scheme for retrenched Singaporeans.

Thus it really makes one wonder whether Singaporeans have really become Second Class Citizens in their very own country! What went wrong?

The answer is very simple: the ruling party PAP, does not see the need to be accountable to Singaporeans, the workers at all. Not for the Minibond Saga, neither the impact of horrendous rental increase and indiscriminate import of foreign workers as cheap labor substitutes for local workers. They only see the need to be accountable to the rich and powerful business, MNCs, GLCs etc, but never about Singaporeans.

When will Singaporeans at large learn about the truth of such ultra-capitalist government? How could Singaporeans extract more accountability from the million dollar annual paid ministers?

The answer my friends, is blowing in the wind.

Goh Meng Seng


edwin3060 said...

I think your theory that increased labor rights being a contributing factor in the historical growth of democracy is an interesting one--- but at the same time you should realize that this doesn't mean that labor rights are intrinsically linked to democracy. Certainly, the growth of so-called fair trade products which purport to give a fair wage to the laborers who produce the said products has little to do with democracy and everything to do with the profit margins of the companies offering these products.

At the same time, you seem to have missed the news reports about NTUC and the government as a whole strongly encouraging companies to keep their workers, even at a reduced wage, rather than firing them. I draw analogy from the strong, but ultimately misguided auto worker union in the USA, which, in demanding stable wages as well as stable jobs, ultimately lead to the downfall of the auto industry in the US. In a weak economic situation, something has got to give-- and half a loaf of bread is better than none at all.

Goh Meng Seng said...

Here again, you have missed the point completely.

Labor rights is not some god given rights but in fact, fought with blood, sweat and tears in the past. Either through revolutions or demonstration and it only gets better when Democracy is being implemented, even if it means in stages. Black Slavery would not be eradicated in US if the democratic struggle by means of armed conflicts.

Trade is an ancient activity that exists ever since human being exists, even with slavery around. Fair trade of slaves existed too. I do not know how you link increase in Fair Trade with Labor movement.

What you seems to say is Free market economy enhances Labor Rights. But to meet the criteria of Free Market in ancient times, it was very rare and definitely not in a country of slavery.

Free Market principles could only apply to Free Society with Free mobility of labor, numerous industrial players, free information flow etc. In Singapore, who monopolize the market under different names?

And you seems to deliberately miss the point that while workers are asked to make sacrifices, but why landlords (GLCs the main players) are not asked to make sacrifices? Why company directors and CEOs are not asked to slash their salaries?

Citing one extreme example will not make the other extreme looks better. And this other extreme just happens in Singapore, not US.

Goh Meng Seng

Anonymous said...

There is a Chinese translation of this article: