The SMRT Strike, the Government and the Usual Suspects
The regime huffed and puffed that the usual suspects of political activists have manipulated the SMRT bus drivers’ case for political gain. The MOM and MHA statement denounced that the NGOs and activists “repeat their reckless allegations about our labour laws, unions”. That is what NGOs and activists naturally do – to seize an issue, politicise it and prod the government while sitting on a high moral horse. And that is what governments do, to dis-empower activists not on their side while sitting on a high moral horse also. There are questions for both sides.
The government statement came about as response against a joint NGO-activists statement. The signatories included SDP members Teo Soh Lung and Dr Paul Tambyah, which is expected as this is SDP’s kind of confrontational advocacy. The NGO statement worded that Liu Xiangying and He Junling’s account that they were physically abused during interrogation should not be dismissed as baseless. The two Chinese nationals have returned home after serving their jail sentence here for instigating a strike and prior to that made a public address about their abuse although they did not make a police report on the abuse. So their claims of being abused or not abused, especially when they are back in China already, can never be known.
Underneath all these vested accusations at each other, lies an issue of trust again. In summary, activists and the government should never be trusted fully by us, and activists and the government distrust each other.
Activists are not hapless helpess victims as they portray themselves to be. They have the popularity of underdogs regardless of what they do. In a recent talk Strike Out, activists like Jolovan Wham explained their coordinated pressure tactics using foreign NGOs, with Lynn Lee on the video about how the bus drivers were abused, and harped on the old idea of a police state to gain public support. I believe the police did watch him closely because of the circumstances of the case but did the government actually try to intimidate him and how much of it was his bravado and exaggeration to win sympathy?
The government is not without blame either. Yes the SMRT bus strikers staged an illegal strike and a law broken is a law broken. However, what the activists were pushing for was labour rights and ultimately a relook into the comfortable NTUC-government relationship where companies can do almost what they want on employment matters andthe government looks on impassively. The SMRT bus driver strike was just the surface of the problem in this tripartite relationship the government so cherished because of the communist-inspired strikes until the 1970s. But the communist united front bogeyman is gone, isn’t there a need to dismantle the cosy relationship between NTUC and the government?