Hsiao-Hung Pai reports on the unprecedented occupation of the Taiwanese parliament.
For the first time in Taiwan’s history, students have occupied the parliament. Hundreds have taken over the building, blocking the entrance with sofas and chairs. Outside the parliament, university lecturers and professors have come out in their support. A nationwide student strike is unfolding.
The occupation is in response to a free trade agreement signed in June 2013 between KMT, the ruling party in Taiwan, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as a follow-up to the Economic Co-operation Framework Agreement signed in 2010 to open up both markets.
The deal was due to be ratified by legislators. Students argue that the trade deal will damage the economy and make life harder for working-class people. Taiwan’s trade unions support the student occupation, saying the government has never consulted workers’ organisations in reaching such this agreement that will have a negative impact on workers’ lives. Wages, particular those in service industries, where 60% of workers in Taiwan are employed, have been on the decreased by 5.86% in the past decade, according to the Taoyuan Federation of Trade Unions. Under the trade agreement, China’s larger service businesses can enter and compete with the smaller service businesses in Taiwan, no doubt leading to lower wages and worse of conditions in the fierce competition between capital.
The Federation of Trade Unions says: “This happened sixteen years ago, when the government opened the island to free trade, advocating outflow of industries and promoting “westward movement” of capital (to China) and “southward movement” of capital (to Southeast Asia), leaving waves of Taiwan’s workers laid off without redundancy and pension. This will happen again with the trade agreement today.” Union members are distributing water and food supplies to students right now.
Prior to, and since the agreement was signed, there have been numerous debates among citizens about the terms of the deal. But the public debate has not been considered by the decision-makers and the KMT ignored their previous pledge that the agreement will be reviewed clause-by-clause. Without consensus, the signing of the deal is undemocratic.
It is also feared that the deal, and the economic monopoly that comes with it, will also bring more political control from China over Taiwan’s media and society.
University lecturers and professors are now running classes on the streets in Taipei. These include lectures on ‘how cross-Strait trade impact on democracy?’, ‘what does free trade do to free speech?’, ‘China’s state capitalism and free trade agreement”. A university lecturer said: “Don’t talk to us about GDP. We want to talk about jobs and environment. We don’t want an economic model based on low wage and social injustice.”
The students demand that the KMT president Ma Ying-jeou apologise, premier Jiang resigns and the legislature return the agreement to cabinet. A student activist Chen Tingwei said that if the government refused to review the deal as it originally said, students will urge more people to storm the parliament.