Malaysiakini Letter

Address workers’ democracy from a larger perspective

Ronald Benjamin  |  Published:  |  Modified:

LETTER | First and foremost, I welcome and appreciate Penang Deputy Chief Minister II P Ramasamy’s reply to my letter on his myopic view of workers’ democracy. I concur with him on the importance of healthy debates about workers’ issues in the country.

It is obvious that the author’s reply to my letter, “Workers’ democracy needs the state to roll back”, seems to suggest that the less the state’s control on workers’ freedom, the more they would able to negotiate better conditions of their existence.

I have no quarrel with this assertion. I would argue that ideally, a state exists for the common good, and it should not restrict workers’ freedom.

On the other hand, since the state exists for the common good and a government is selected on the basis of common good, it has to intervene in issues like minimum wages or skewed distribution of wealth to protect the weak from exploitation.

Democracy is the right means to create values, but issues related to workers are complex and need the state’s intervention to reconcile various conflicts of interest or to stand up to corporate greed that is detrimental to the majority.

In the current complex global political environment where there is a constant shift of political powers with the right, left or centrist ideologies forming the government, issues related to workers have become far more complex. It requires global activism and action.

I would suggest that Ramasamy read my Aliran article on Sept 29, 2016 titled, “Workers, peasants should shape their socio-political, economic order”.

I raised the pertinent issue of the link between political and business elites with the mainstream media on their side, and workers and peasants having to take whatever crumbs are thrown at consumers to survive as individuals and families.

Dichotomy between idealism and reality

If one analyses the situation of workers in developed countries in the West like the United States, they all have democratic tools at their disposal and yet marginalise workers, because the state has embraced a new liberal ideology where corporations and workers are given the freedom to negotiate among themselves in theory, but in practical terms, jobs have been lost where these so-called corporations have been searching for low-cost labour in foreign lands or new technological developments that have created structural unemployment where there is a skills mismatch.

The grievances of these workers due to these issues have been translated into voting for right-wing parties.

Workers need democratic freedom to shape their destinies, but the threat to such freedom comes not only from a political or administrative sense alone, as the author asserts, but also comes when the state embraces an economic system that overrides whatever democratic freedom that is gained.

It is global neoliberalism undermining democracy that concerns me, since the trade unions in Malaysia are working within the neoliberal system instead of questioning its flaws.

Even the Pakatan Harapan government and BN opposition has not made a clear stand on this flawed system. What would democracy provide if there is an acceptance of an economic system that undermines workers rights?

The way the now-defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) was negotiated in secret shows how corporate greed undermines democratic rights of workers.

In this context of unfair trade deals and new economy, workers need the necessary education on the workings of neoliberalism and how it affects their livelihood and democracy, besides embracing new technological skills that are not external, but interior human development that complements democracy and bargaining positions of workers. I hope there will be more debates on these issues in the new Malaysia.


The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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