Friday, December 3, 2021

Societal Transformation - The Need For The Trade Union Movement To Build Bridges With Civil Society Movement And Political Allies.

 Societal Transformation - The Need For The  Trade Union Movement To Build Bridges With Civil Society Movement And Political Allies.

The late trade union icon Dr. V. David once, candidly, told me that to sustain the spirit of the workers struggle burning, the working class must feel hunger in their bellies. In the early 80s I thought that his view was diametrically opposed to the philosophy of the  workers movement. 

Coming from a breed of grass roots leaders, having had the privilege of participating in a 6 month lock-out brought about in an orchestrated ploy to break the union by the company, I believe that I can, now, relate to what Dr. V. David said. 

During the said lock out we were a group of workers deprived of any source of income. Our bellies felt the hunger and our resolve to stand united to fight the injustice heaped upon us grew in strength. The camadararie, regardless of race, religion and culture was cemented in our quest to combat the injustice that we, collectively, were facing. Sadly, that epoch of undivided solidarity has been conscripted to memory. 

Over the decades I have have seen the gradual erosion of the comradeship that so prevailed amongst the workers in the 70s and 80s. Unfortunately, the evils of race centric politics seems to have crept into the trade union movement. That, in my view, is  the "Achilles heel" in the circumstances! 

In the heydays the trade union movement, including the leadership of the MTUC, forged a working relationship with civil society organisations like the Consumer Associate Of Penang (CAP), Friends Of The Earth (SAM), ALIRAN and the Muslim Youth Movement (ABIM). Networking with political parties such as the DAP and PSRM was the norm. Together we called for the emancipation of the people be it workers rights, consumerism, envoirentalism or concerns for socio-economic conditions. We had demanded for draconian, obnoxious policies and laws that infringe on fundamental rights be abolished. Clearly, there was a nexus between the trade union movement, civil society organisations and political parties for changes.

 In any full blooded attempt, to seek a transformation of the working class, the trade union movement cannot isolate itself for the simple reason that transformation of society is a holistic endeavour. The trade union movement cannot do it alone. It has no option but to network with civil society organisations in order to strive for a transformation of the social-economic land-scape of the working population of the country.

Unfortunately,  the trade union leadership, sadly in our country, seems to have adopted a holier than thou attitude in the matter. That, in itself, is a no brainer as history will stand testimony to the fact that changes were never achieved without a well thought out coordinated campaign mounted by all strata of civil society movements in the pursuit for changes. 

Hence, the trade union fraternity has no option but to make their choice - stay isolated and continue to play an ineffective role or reach out to like minded civil society organisations and political parties to endeavour, collectively, to strive for meaningful societal transformation of the predicament of the workers.

Opinion Piece 

K. Veeriah 

24, Jalan Goh Swee Huat 

Taman Bukit 

14000 Buku Mertajam 

016 4184520


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