The well-fed ruling elite have tried to cover up the huge divide between the working masses and their exploiters using all kinds of propaganda and diversionary tactics, says Rani Rasiah.
On 29 April 2010, just two days before May Day (International Workers Day), the Security Services Association of Malaysia (the employers’ union) boldly held a press conference to announce that it would not implement the pay hike for security guards promised by the federal government by 1 July 2010. The government’s response was to back track by resorting to its usual subterfuge of ‘studying’ the matter (which effectively means sending it to cold storage). If that isn’t a damning indictment of who is boss around here and what lies ahead for workers, what else is?
What is the reality of life on 1 May 2010 for 70 per cent of the Malaysian population? For this 70 per cent, comprising the working class and other labouring people, life has got bleaker with the Malaysian government wholeheartedly embracing the neo-liberal globalisation economic model. Everything possible is done to appease and entice both domestic and foreign capital, all based on boosting profits by cutting costs for investors.
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Since the cost of factors of production such as overheads and raw material cannot be tweaked, the burden of cost saving is transferred to workers. And so workers get no minimum wage, with employers paying wages as low as RM400 or even less a month for eight hours of work. Three million migrant worker who do the 3Ds (Dirty, Difficult and Dangerous) jobs are here courtesy of the government to keep wages depressed. Employers are free to cut costs by cutting down the workforce and driving their workers to produce for them in two 12-hour shifts what used to be done in three eight-hour shifts.
Meanwhile the cost of living continues to skyrocket, as the government turns over public services and basic amenities for profit making to capitalists. The ongoing privatisation of water, health care and education, assets once held in trust by the government for the people, compound the problem of low wages by depriving people of what was previously enjoyed at very subsidised rates. Quality education, health care and transport are now only for those who can afford, thus lowering living standards and making the lowly-paid working class second class citizens in their own country.
The well-fed ruling elite have tried to cover up the huge divide between the working masses and the exploitative capitalist class by using all kinds of propaganda and diversionary tactics. Its ‘One Malaysia’ slogan, for example, aims to lull workers into believing that all Malaysians are one big happy family, even though our gini coefficient ranks us the second worst in all of Asia in terms of income inequality in our society.
The only message we can draw this May Day from the rapidly worsening situation of workers is that enough is enough: it is time for workers to unite and wrest back at least the benefits we have lost. Let us remember and be guided by the heroic struggle of 1 May 1886 and the sacrifice of the Chicago Haymarket Square workers of the May Day Movement for an eight-hour workday. Their struggle led to the realisation of the eight-hour workday and the declaration of 1 May as a public holiday.
The PSM stands in solidarity with all working peoples in the struggle for a world in which the producers of wealth are able to enjoy the fruits of their labour. As a party whose raison d’etre is justice for the working masses, the PSM has endeavoured to stay focussed on issues facing the working class, with our most recent campaign against the GST (Goods and Services Tax) succeeding in postponing its implementation.
Rani Rasiah is deputy secretary general of Parti Sosialis Malaysia