Showing posts with label domestic_labor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label domestic_labor. Show all posts

Monday, October 28, 2019

In Taiwan, women are the real labor movement

25593947_10156005415296202_4203428892509517683_n
In both domestic and foreign labor, it's the women who are pushing the real changes

In the span of a few short years, I've noticed something regarding labor actions in Taiwan: all of the most successful ones (as well as less successful but highly visible actions) have been organized and carried out by women.

The Taoyuan Flight Attendants' strike (which you might know of as the "China Airlines strike") of 2016, called “first successful strike held by an independent labor union in Taiwan’s history" by the union director has overall been upheld as an example of what organized labor can achieve if they persist. Of course, the flight attendants themselves - remember them, occupying the road around the China Airlines headquarters? - were predominantly female, as were the organizers and public faces of the movement (including the union director, Su Ying-jung). 

The EVA Airlines strike, though less successful, garnered a high level of visibility, both domestically and internationally. Though they gained fewer concessions than the earlier flight attendants' strike, I do think it creased a sense that striking is a legitimate way to push for a better work environment rather than pushing "too far" and being taboo. Of course, most of the EVA strikers were also women.

There was also the China Airlines pilots' strike, which skewed more male (in Taiwan and globally, in the airline industry men are more likely to be pilots and women are more likely to be flight attendants. Someone's going to get mad at me for saying this, but the reason is sexism. But, it's not directly related to my point here.) The pilots' strike was also largely successful, but came on the heels of (and was perhaps spurred on or inspired by) the success of the flight attendants' strike. Other labor organizers have pointed to the China Airlines flight attendants' strike for giving their own initiatives more visibility.


2016 China Airlines strike
China Airlines Flight Attendants' Strike, from Wikimedia Commons - you'll see both men and women engaging in the strike, but I can assure you that the organization and core of this action was predominantly female

These strikes were historic in Taiwan, in part because there really hasn't been much in the way of labor movements or strike actions in the country since the 1990s. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a strong uptick in the number of autonomous labor unions formed, in contrast to the old-style, often conservative, government-backed unions which were mostly formed to prevent organized labor from making significant ground or challenging KMT control of and profit from the island's most lucrative industries (there's a long history of state interference and personal and party benefit from industry in post-war Taiwan and of course the military dictatorship didn't want organized labor threatening their control, and most autonomous organizations of any kind were banned - labor, women's organizations, you name it). As Martial Law was lifted and Taiwan began the process of democratization, unions in general threw off the shackles of state or corporate control and protests, strikes and various labor actions did take place, but then the movement lost steam. 

Around the same time, the Supreme Court upheld the ruling against RCA for exposing workers to toxic waste - especially carcinogenic solvents - causing high incidents of cancer among former employees. Though the RCA workers did not have all of their demands met, RCA was ordered to pay damages to afflicted former employees and their families. And, again, most of the workers involved and the people who organized to fight the lawsuit were women.

I have been looking into it and can't find a similar example of an organized group of male workers bringing a lawsuit against a former employer and winning in the way that the RCA workers did - if you know of one, please clue me in. There's a reason, however, that this case was considered historic.

While all this was going on, there has been exactly one large cross-industry labor protest of note, which took place in late 2017. Though many of the attendees were female, if you look at the photos, you'll see that huge blocs of industrial union participants were male (indeed, check out the photo of the Chunghwa Telecom Workers' Union from that link). The women I saw in attendance tended to be foreign domestic workers fighting to end their exclusion from many of Taiwan's labor protection laws, and young protesters showing up to represent a variety of related but not-quite-the-same causes, such as marriage equality and Taiwanese independence.

For a number of political reasons which are not quite relevant here, the usual activist groups and left-leaning political parties were largely absent in any organized form, though individuals from those movements did show up.

And that protest went exactly nowhere, and a lot of people felt tricked or misled by the organizers, myself included. To be honest, beyond the foreign labor groups and some of the individual young activists who showed up, the whole thing felt like conservative older men and some leftie labor activists who aren't exactly pro-Taiwan (some people call them 'pro-unification left') coming together to hold banners, and create a whole bunch of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

In short, it sure feels to me like the backbone of the labor movement in Taiwan is female. Not only that, but the future of labor movements in Taiwan are, as well. It's the women who fight back, the women who lead historic strikes, and the women who get results while the men hold signs and criticize President Tsai (but where were they when working conditions were degrading under President Ma? I remember no large labor protests from those eight years. Do you? Why, whatever could be the reason?) and nothing happens.

I've also noticed that the fact that women are leading the labor movement is simply ignored in media reporting of their success. New Bloom, which is usually quite good at highlighting issues of misogyny and gender/sex discrimination, called the China Airlines flight attendants' strike predominantly young, which is true (flight attendants in Asia skew young), but not predominantly female, although it was. They did point out that the EVA Airlines flight attendants were all female, in the context of EVA's frankly sexist and probably illegal hiring policy, but not in the context of women being the vanguard of contemporary labor movements. Taipei Times didn't bring up gender at all when discussing the flight attendants' strike or the RCA lawsuit.


EVA Airlines strike photo from CNA via Taiwan News

Of course, it shouldn't matter, because labor is labor regardless of gender. But considering historic discrimination against women in labor around the world, including Taiwan, what is considered to be overall low labor participation by Taiwanese women (more on that later, though), and the overall tendency of small and medium-sized businesses to be represented by men (regardless of who is doing most of the work) and the painting of men, traditionally, as hard-working entrepreneurs but not women (see the male-oriented phrase 黑手變頭家 which lionizes male 'black-hand' laborers for becoming successful business owners)...it does matter. It has to matter. I hope for a world where someday it doesn't, but in 2019, it does. 
25592160_10156005736451202_2365049570889102892_n
One of the few examples of a group of women at the 2017 labor protest

It truly feels like women are on the front lines and taking the initiative in a society that is still oriented to respect male labor but not female labor, and getting zero credit.

This invisibility of women as the backbone of labor in Taiwan has historical roots - at least, I think it does.

Looking at Taiwan's labor history, those post-war "home industries" and "home factories" where individuals did manufacturing piecework in their homes were often seen as a way for the women of a household - who, by the way, still had to do all the regular household labor - to help the family income. Men and young people engaged in this work as well: I remember a student who'd reached an extremely high perch in an internationally-known Taiwanese company telling me about pressing plastic leaves for fake flowers with one hand while studying with a book in his other hand, because his father's income as a bus driver wasn't sufficient to support the family. But, so often, it was "housewives" who did this work.

When factories - both large and small - drove Taiwan's industrial miracle, they often looked to women as sources of labor. This was in part because they could pay them less, and in part because they expected the women to leave their jobs as soon as they married and (probably) got pregnant, meaning they wouldn't have to worry about things like severance pay or a retirement pension as they would with long-term male workers. For the smaller factories, men were often the sales and public face of the company, but women did a huge proportion of the actual manufacturing. These factories and industries were seen as 'male' - all those 'black hand' laborers working their way up in the world - but they weren't, really.

When 'family businesses' became part of the small-and-medium sized enterprise boom that helped make the Taiwan Miracle possible, who do you think in the family did all the back-end work? The 'man' (usually a husband or father in the family) would be the public face of the company, but the person keeping the books, taking stock, perhaps doing a large proportion of the actual work, and often making important business decisions was that man's wife. Mr. Chen might be the 老闆 (boss) with his own business card, but Chen Tai-tai - the 老闆娘 - is the real boss. If you want something done, don't talk to Mr. Chen - talk to his wife. Of course, she does all that and also all of the housework and child-rearing, but probably doesn't have a business card.

I say all of this anecdotally, but I've brought up my observation to countless Taiwanese friends and students and not one has disagreed, and while none of my reading states this explicitly, it's strongly implied in several of my sources.

And yet, when one reads about society in the Taiwan Miracle (there's even a book called State and Society in the Taiwan Miracle, which mentions 'businessmen' but generally not the women who actually did a great deal of the work), rarely are women's contributions to this miracle acknowledged, and they're certainly not given credit for being the backbone of this miracle, which I absolutely believe they are.

I've seen this play out in my social circle as well. One of my best friend's parents run a small business in Taiwan, and until recent years my friend's father was the 'face' of that company (though her mother also did a huge amount of the work). Recently, my friend has taken over a lot of the operations and she does get credit as the 'public face' of her family's business, but that's a modern development. But, remember a few paragraphs ago when I touched on "low labor participation" of Taiwanese women? This friend of mine doesn't draw an official salary. As far as I'm aware her job isn't official at all. While she is absolutely employed, I'm not at all sure that the government considers her as 'part of the labor force' (I don't know how they arrive at those statistics). I get the feeling that a lot of wives and daughters do in fact participate in labor outside the home, but aren't counted because it's all informal.


Informality is quite possibly a key, in fact, to why Taiwanese women get so little credit when they deserve so much. Taiwanese labor contracts - if there's a contract at all, which there often isn't in the case of family - in these small businesses are often extremely informal, looking more like agreements between relatives, neighbors or friends than formal work contracts (that's backed up by academic research, not just an observation). I count women's labor for a family business to be labor 'outside the home', though often it takes place literally inside the home (the home often doubling as an office for the family business, or being physically connected to it, in the case of family factories). Families themselves might consider this work to not be labor in a workplace but rather just..women's work that women do for the family, at home.

How much of the labor of women is simply not counted because of this?

To drive home my point, I want to leave you with a story that goes further back in Taiwanese history. In her excellent book, Anru Lee narrates how textile production was banned under Japanese colonial rule, when economic policy was essentially mercantilist (foodstuffs such as rice and sugar would go to Japan, finished goods would come from Japan to be sold in Taiwan). But cloth was scarce, especially during the war, and there was profit to be made in weaving and selling it - so families, often women, would do so. Raw cotton had to be imported and wasn't available to these women, so they'd use cotton from old clothing and household products. Then they'd use their recycled-material cloth to swaddle and carry their babies in public, where they could then sell that cloth without being noticed (women were also considered less likely by the Japanese authorities to break the law, so they wouldn't come under as much scrutiny). In this way, women contributed economically to their households, and did so entirely under the radar.

And it seems women in Taiwanese labor are still under the radar, even when they take to the streets.

* * * 
A few sources for this piece which I didn't explicitly mention (and are in print so can't be linked) but deserve credit: 



In The Name of Harmony and Prosperity: Labor and Gender Politics in Taiwan's Economic Restructuring by Anru Lee

Women's Movements in Twentieth-Century Taiwan by Doris T. Chang

The Trade Union Movement in Ma's Taiwan by Yu-bin Chiu and Uneasy Alliance: State feminism and the conservative government in Taiwan by Huang Chang-ling, both in Taiwan's Social Movements Under Ma Ying-jeou, edited by Dafydd Fell. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Bad reporting, Han Kuo-yu, and racism against Filipinos in Taiwanese society

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 12.02.45 PM
This meme - not established Taiwanese media -  is the most accurate translation of Han's actual remarks that I've found. 

So, I'm sure you've all heard by now that Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu is a racist crapsack, but you might not be entirely clear on exactly how much of a racist crapsack he actually is, because it's impossible to figure out what his exact words were from print media. 

In looking for Han's direct quote, I found three different versions in United Daily News, Liberty Times and Storm Media, and decided none of them could be fully trusted. So, I found a video. Here's exactly what he said, with video evidence:


我想高雄市民跟台灣人民的心理狀態一定很大衝擊,怎麼瑪麗亞一下變成我們老師了?

My translation:


I think the hearts of Kaohsiung residents and Taiwanese would be greatly shocked, how can a Maria become our teacher?

'Maria' is a pejorative for a Filipina woman, connoting a woman of humble means who performs domestic labor. It's equivalent to calling them maids - referring to every woman in the Philippines as 'the help'. This particular insult is well-known in Taiwan, where many workers from the Philippines perform blue-collar labor in Taiwan. It's not just a racist word, it's a sexist one too as it specifically denigrates the domestic labor done by foreign women.

That word, "shock" (衝擊) can also mean an assault or lashing - it could just as easily be translated as "would assault the hearts of Kaohsiungers and Taiwanese".

The "...because how can a 'Maria' become our English teacher" is also important to understanding Han's meaning, it implies unlikeliness, impossibility, or mockery. How could The Help possibly teach us?

This is what he means and an accurate translation of his remark makes that clear.

Han goes on to say (from the video linked above, translation mine):


往菲律賓取才我覺得這個在一個克服的過程。... 如果我們從菲律賓引進教英文的師資,高雄的家長能不能接受? 所以我才會用瑪麗亞三個字,來做一個表述,所以我用瑪麗亞三個字不是有其他的意思在。...你為什麼不找美國,澳大利亞,英國的,你為什麼找隔壁菲律賓的?我的意思是說,家長心裡會有一個障礙。可是呢?菲律賓外語人才的輸出,已經很成熟,這個兩個這間,怎麼樣說服高雄的家長? 
Filipino talent, I think this is a process of overcoming....if we introduce qualified English teachers from the Philippines, would Kaohsiung patriarchs/heads of household/old-timers be able to accept it [with the implication that they would not]. So, I can only say 'Maria' it's just an expression, so when I say 'Maria', there's no other meaning....Why don't you find American, Australian, English ones, why do you find people from the nearby Philippines? My meaning is, that's a mental obstacle for these 'patriarchs'/old timers. But? The Philippines sending out foreign language speakers is already very common. Between these two [extremes], how can we convince those old-timers?

This sounds like a reasonable position to take, because it's surely true that there are many racist people in Kaohsiung and Taiwan who would be bothered by or opposed to having teachers from the Philippines in positions of authority and respect in Taiwan, because to them, they are just "Marias".

That doesn't absolve Han of his initial comments, though. First, to say "I didn't mean anything other than that by the word 'Maria'" is about as tired an excuse as "I only used the N-word because I heard it in a rap song, not because I meant something racist."

And it doesn't hold up to even the barest scrutiny as an explanation: he's not quoting anyone in particular when he calls Filipinas 'Marias'. The word came out of his own mouth. He used it offhandedly, like a normal word anyone would use. He didn't adequately signpost his remarks as a quote or description of an attitude, because that's not actually what they were despite his "clarifications" later.

If Han had really meant to describe what Taiwanese think, and make it clear that he disagrees, he wouldn't have said 'Maria' so casually in the first place. This marks him not as an ally, but a concern troll: defending his words as describing what the other side thinks, but showing through his unconsidered language choices that, on some level, he is a part of that 'other side'. Someone who truly wants to change racism against Southeast Asians in Taiwanese society would simply not say "...how can a Maria become our teacher?"

It boils down to his meaning being, "I don't hate Marias, I'm just worried about racism in Taiwan, what with everyone used to them being so poor and being maids and all, it's sad to me that nobody wants those Marias to be their English teachers. I'm just concerned!" 


He didn't say "many Taiwanese unfortunately have an obstacle in their thinking to accepting the idea that teachers from the Philippines could teach them, and that is wrong. We need to persuade them and overcome this obstacle, because there are many qualified professionals, including teachers, from the Philippines." He didn't even say "many Taiwanese think of workers from the Philippines as 'Marias' and that is a problem", which, while a bit gasp-worthy, is at least kind of an accurate description of what some Taiwanese people think.

He said, and I repeat, "how can a Maria become an English teacher?" as casually as an American racist might say "How'd a ________ like her get a nice car like that?" 

(And see how I made it quite clear that such horrid language describes views that exist in the world, but does not reflect my own views? It's not hard.)

At the very least it didn't occur to him that unthinkingly tossing off the 'Maria' epithet might be a problem. That only happens when someone already thinks of a group of people that way, not when they are signaling disagreement or condemnation of an opinion others hold.

And if a leader is caught in such a gaffe and tries to insist that they don't personally feel that way about a particular group, but they're just worried that everyone else does, that's simply unacceptable. Leaders should not inflame societal prejudices, even if they are common; they should be examples of a higher, more forward-thinking standard. 


Let's keep in mind as well that he tows the same 'concern troll' line with marriage equality, saying his real concern is "the next generation" (won't someone think of the children?), not that he is anti-gay, while fraternizing with anti-gay groups


And he didn't even bother to defend his remark until later in the meeting when directly asked about it, or show awareness that 'Maria' is more than 'just an expression'.

If you look at reporting of Han's comments, you get distortions of what he said all over the place (all translations are mine). Some make his wording look a lot worse - from UDN:


引進菲律賓人才,這恐怕對高雄人、台灣人心理衝擊大,因為瑪麗亞怎麼變老師了?
Introducing Filipino talent, I'm afraid (as in, scared - not regretful) that this will be a shock to Taiwanese and Kaohsiung residents, because how can a Maria become a teacher? 

From Liberty Times:


這恐怕對台灣人心理衝擊大,因為瑪麗亞怎麼變老師了?
I'm afraid that this would be a shock to the Taiwanese, because how can a Maria become a teacher?

And from Storm Media, inexplicably making him look better:


韓國瑜認為,確實能夠借重,但必須先克服市民及台灣人民的心理障礙,讓「瑪莉亞變老師」,很多人內心會有衝擊。 
...「我覺得我想高雄市民跟台灣人民,心理一定有很大衝擊,瑪莉亞變成我們老師了,這要克服的過程,這可能心理衝擊很大。」 
Han Kuo-yu believes it is indeed possible to take advantage of /get benefits from [talent from the Philippines], but the psychological barriers of the people of Taiwan must first be overcome - to let "'Marias' become teachers", a lot of people will be shocked.  
"I think / I think that Kaohsiung residents and Taiwanese will be very shocked, Marias become our English teachers, we need to overcome this, this can be a huge shock." 

Storm tried to soften the impact of his words by mashing two quotes together - "Marias become our English teachers" and "we need to overcome this", making it seem as though he said these two things at the same time, when he didn't (which the video makes clear by his different positioning). It also erases the "because how can a Maria become our teacher?" by selectively cutting his quote and replacing "because how can..." (怎麼) with "let" (讓) outside the quote marks. 

In English the reporting isn't much higher quality.

From Focus Taiwan, which offers the most accurate translation:


Responding to a proposal that Taiwan could hire bilingual Filipino white-collar workers at a conference on Wednesday, the mayor said employing "Marias" as teachers would be a psychological shock for Taiwanese.

There's also this from Taiwan News, which is far worse but just translates the garbage from Storm Media above but does so in a way that make Han's comments sound erudite in English, when they weren't particularly eloquent in Mandarin:


In response to this, the Kaohsiung Mayor admitted the Philippines’ abundance of skilled labor could benefit the city, but said its residents would first need to overcome some “internal conflicts.”
“I believe witnessing ‘Marias’ become teachers would cause a clash in the hearts of the people of Kaohsiung, and Taiwan’s population at large. This is something that needs to be overcome; likely a huge internal conflict,” Storm quotes Han.

And the Taipei Times, with what I think is the most inaccurate translation:


Han on Wednesday told a meeting of the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce in Taipei that he feared that hiring educated employees from the Philippines as English teachers “would cause a psychological shock for Taiwanese, as people might wonder: How has our Maria become a teacher?” 


Focus Taiwan accurately placed the 'Maria' comment within the attitude of Han, which is the context in which he made it, and not as a description of what he thinks other Taiwanese think. The other two make him sound much better than he actually did, and situate the 'Maria' quip not as Han's own word (which it is) but as a description of something he disagrees with (which is not what he said until pushed - which outs him as a concern troll.) Some translations (like Taipei Times' work) add connotations to the translation - e.g. "wondering" - that are simply not there in his actual words. 

All of these seem so odd to me, because the video of his remarks is publicly available. I'm not even a native Mandarin speaker or a perfectly fluent one, and yet I found and translated it with little problem.

So why do some quotes - like Liberty Times and UDN - make Han's remark seem more shocking than it was (and to be clear, it was quite shocking on its own and did not need to be sexed up)? And why do others - like Storm Media - make it sound like not much at all? How is this unclear and inaccurate media reporting of Han's remarks affecting how Taiwanese think about the incident, and is it distorting public discourse?

In English at least, it is having a distorting effect. Several posts on social media have pointed out that Han's remarks should not be considered offensive, because that's what some Taiwanese really think, based on the Taipei Times and Taiwan News translations.

This makes me wonder how can we even have a real conversation about Han's remarks and racism in Taiwanese society if what we read isn't quoting him correctly.

I'm not sure why Storm Media - which I've found to be typically more reliable - made Han look better than he deserved, and why a pan-green and pan-blue rag each made him look worse. But because the inaccuracies are present across the entire media-political spectrum, it doesn't point to an attempt to polarize the Taiwanese political cleavage.

Rather, I think it's just plain old bad reporting.

I'll finish off with something bad, then something good.

Something bad:


Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) on Saturday apologized for a recent remark in which he referred to Filipinos as "Marias," saying the term, considered by many to be a racial slur, was a slip of the tongue.
Han was sorry for the misunderstanding caused by his misuse of the term and said he looks forward to future cooperation with the Philippines, it added. 

No, Focus Taiwan. NO NO NO NO NO.

"Maria" is not "considered by many" to be a racial slur. Jesus F. Christ. It is a racial slur. Period. Han Kuo-yu said it, and only tried to insist it was a description of what other people think after he was called to task for it, without ever explaining why he'd throw it out so casually (because there is no explanation that absolves him).

It was not a "misunderstanding". We all understood him perfectly. People in the Philippines understood him quite accurately. And he didn't misuse the term - he used it exactly as it's meant to be used in racist speech.

Just as when my (dearly departed) grandpa referred to "those people" and then insisted, when I pressed him, that he hadn't meant it as an insult but "they're just a different community", I knew perfectly well that that's not what he'd meant. 


But then there's the good thing: when I moved to Taiwan 12 years ago, I don't know that a comment like this would have caused this kind of uproar in Taiwan. I passed more than one "Foreign Labor Go Home" protest, with old men carrying signs. I don't even know if such language was common then, because my Mandarin was crap, and I never heard of anyone raising a fuss about it.

But in 2019, despite some attempts to justify Han's language, the overwhelming response of Taiwanese public discourse is that it is not acceptable to talk this way, and racist speech and actions should not be tolerated.

If Han is correct about how many Taiwanese might think of English teachers from the Philippines - and he is, for some people - the fact that the backlash has been so swift and damning proves that not all Taiwanese think this way.

That said, it doesn't seem to be hurting his approval ratings, although I have long suspected something is really weird about whatever force underlies those ratings which is propping up Han. 


Taiwan has a long way to go - we need to treat immigrants from Southeast Asia better, end discrimination and give them the same opportunities for permanent residency and citizenship that white collar workers (who are largely Western) have - but this is real progress. 

Friday, December 28, 2018

Taiwan needs to figure out how to treat foreigners better

It pains me to say it, but Taiwan has some deep discrepancies between the human rights ideals it claims to espouse, and how it treats not only its own citizens, but also those who come to Taiwan to study or work.

Instances of Taiwanese universities using the New Southbound Policy as basically a vector for scamming Southeast Asian students are starting to feel not like horrifying exceptions, but the norm. It's happened now with not just Sri Lankan students (news of which broke just months ago) but Indonesian ones as well, at more than a handful of universities.

These universities take government subsidies meant to help them attract students from Southeast Asia, and then use them to pay brokers to bring students over. These students are then assigned jobs in factories, and attend class only a few days a week, if at all. These factory jobs are called "internships", but they aren't learning opportunities - they are basic blue-collar work - and they aren't even allowed for first-year students, and certainly shouldn't be taking up most of one's week, as work is limited to 20 hours/week for foreign students here.

These are scams aimed at getting free labor - or even labor that has paid to be there, as some of these students are paying tuition to do this. They are violations of human rights.

Taiwanese people would not accept this happening to their own citizens, so it disgusts me that it seems to happen so easily to foreigners.

The "university" system here isn't the only vector for abuse - how domestic workers (who are predominantly female) and fishing boat workers (predominantly male) are treated, not to mention regular factory workers, is obscene. 

Taiwan is trying to take a big step forward by reducing its economic dependence on China through re-invigorating ties with Southeast Asia through the New Southbound Policy. But the high-minded ideas of the central government just aren't trickling down to those meant to actually implement it through outreach (including businesses, employers and universities).

Attempting to take advantage of a government policy aimed at improving the country to line one's own pockets is not unique to foreign residents or the New Southbound Policy (certainly this happens in the domestic sphere as well - just ask how property developers circumvent the "green space" law by giving politicians reduced-price apartments they can flip and profit from, or how some local politicians take advantage of local charities). However, I can't help but think in this case, there's an element of racism at play.

If this were happening to Taiwanese, the outcry would be swift and condemning. Instead, the government "will conduct an investigation" (hardly decisive action they need to be taking). This after it's obvious that those in government who set up the programs with universities - if they can even be called that - knew how likely it was that they would try to take advantage of both the government and the foreign students. If they weren't aware of this possibility, they wouldn't have talked to the university presidents in person and warned them off doing exactly this. 


Initiatives like the New Southbound Policy aren't going to work if the people in charge of actually implementing various initiatives are using them merely to take advantage of Southeast Asian people. They're not stupid, guys. They know that there's a lot of racism against Southeast Asians here. They know that these scams exist. They know that they can't necessarily trust these programs. And neither the people nor the governments there are going to stand for it. They are already angry.

I'll say it again: if Taiwan continues to be known for treating Southeast Asians badly, and is seen as using the New Southbound Policy for their own enrichment with little concern for the effect on Southeast Asian people or economies, it's not going to work. The New Southbound Policy will fail, and we'll be stuck with a choice between China strangling our democracy or our economy - exactly the thing we seek to avoid. 


One of the things that has really impressed me about Taiwan is how this country consistently pushes itself to live up to its purported ideals: democracy, freedom, human rights. It's not that other countries don't do that, but Taiwan seems (to me anyway) to make more progress more quickly than other parts of Asia, and the struggle just seems more visible here (and more accessible in terms of being connected or understanding, on a personal level, the bleeding edge of the push for social change.)

But we have to admit that Taiwan, as much as it may be a place one can love deeply and make a commitment to, is far from perfect. That's true not just in terms of how it treats its own citizens, but how it treats foreigners here. It has ideals, but as things stand right now, it simply doesn't live up to them. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Gonzo Journalism at the labor protest (updated!)

25507995_10156005415486202_4667751089868838154_n

So, I pushed myself to go to today's labor protest even though I woke up this morning to the news that my grandfather had passed away (it was not a surprise).

Pushing myself to go anyway was a feat, but there is work to be done and I wanted to be one of the faces in that crowd helping to do it, even if all we were going to accomplish was media attention. After all, I live here and work here too and although the new labor laws don't affect me, Taiwan's generally terrible labor situation does affect me indirectly. Imagine, though, viewing a protest of roughly 10,000 people through a poorly-lit and echo-filled tunnel of unrelated personal grief.

I won't say that I went today as a journalist; I'm not one. I went as a demonstrator in a very conflicted state of mind who happened to plan to write about the experience.

I showed up just as the speeches were getting started and immediately grabbed one of the 'official' (in that everyone had one) protest placards. One side said "累" ("Tired") in Chinese, the other had a large graphic middle finger and said "終止過勞" ("End Overwork"). Almost every labor union I know - and some I didn't know existed - were there. Some were industry-related (e.g. the Taiwan Media Workers' Union), some business-specific (a Carrefour workers' union was present), some related to a specific kind of workers, such as foreign laborers who were quite noticeably present. Some, I noticed wryly, represented workers from government-run enterprises such as Taiwan Railways, Taiwan damn it China Airlines and ugh China Telecom.


25591716_10156005415736202_7820183121722245309_n

Also available were fake temple talismans on yellow paper, a reference to Premier Lai Ching-te saying that working hard for low wages was akin to earning "merit" (in the Buddhist/karma sense). Some people held placards showing a Pinocchio-like President Tsai, who is seen as having lied about the DPP's support for Taiwanese labor. Others held signs that looked like cassette tapes, a reference to a legislator saying all of the slogans being chanted outside were "on a tape" (something the pro-unification protesters - all 6 of them - regularly do) because the "real laborers were busy working hard at their jobs".

I didn't stay for the whole demonstration - which is actually still ongoing - but I stayed long enough to see some intense clashes between demonstrators and police over where the protest was "officially" allowed to be held. More on that later.

First of all, if there's any reason for hope, it's this: for the first time, foreign laborers were being brought into the fold and treated as equals alongside Taiwanese workers. They took the stage and had a translator (as the speaker used Bahasa Indonesia) relating their speech in Mandarin. For the first time that I'm aware of, labor from private and public industries came together, and had visible support from other social activist groups as well.

In fact, the Social Democratic Party, the Green Party, several marriage equality groups (including the Taiwan Tongzhi Hotline) and a Taiwan independence group holding signs saying "Fuck ROC" and passing out stickers saying "DPP KMT both are ROC", despite none of these issues being the main focus of the day.

25591696_10156005414316202_3857170453002726245_n
Taipei Labor Bureau Commisioner Lai Hsiang-ling at the protest

Along with the far left, the far right of the Taiwanese political scene was also there. Veterans showed up demanding the benefits they'd been promised, and at least one KMT legislator, Lee Yen-hsiu (李彥秀) was present giving interviews and generally pretending that the KMT gives a crap about labor (SPOILER ALERT: it doesn't). Apparently the NPP also declared its support, but oddly was not present. I fully intend to, um, inquire about this. Not cool, NPP.

This protest won't do much except garner media attention, but what I really hope comes of it is this - that these groups will continue to work together and turn labor issues into a major social movement with broad and active support. This sort of cross-pollination - marriage equality, Taiwan independence, migrant workers' rights, leftists and rightists, government workers and private-sector workers - is needed for a movement to gather momentum.

Several speeches, as well as several people I talked to in the crowd, noted that the DPP is no better than the KMT. While I do think people hold the DPP to a much higher standard than the KMT and that's not always fair - the KMT can get away with being supremely awful, and yet they're still around and still sometimes get elected whereas everyone jumps all over the tiniest slip by the DPP - that's to be expected when one party grew out of a mass-murdering dictatorship it doesn't seem too contrite for having perpetrated, and the other had idealistic roots based in freedom and democracy. You expect more from the people who claim to be better.

That said, on labor issues, and frankly on a lot of domestic issues, I have to say that they deserve the criticism. I'm generally happy with the way the DPP is handling China, but they're sure making a mess out of Taiwanese domestic issues, labor included. All I can really say is that they inherited a massive KMT mess to clean up, and the main problem is that they haven't got a clue how to do it. So they suffer for their own mistakes - which is well-deserved punishment - as well as the KMT's, which isn't.

Remember, we wouldn't even be in this labor mess if the KMT had given a damn about labor during their many, many, many, many years in power.

25550245_10156005415651202_6520376166786248049_n
KMT legislator Lee Yan-xiu at the protest
The presence of foreign blue-collar labor groups was of special interest to me, as a foreigner myself but one of comparative privilege. I was happy to see that they were included and treated as equals to Taiwanese workers, as this has not always been the case: often groups that claim to support Taiwanese labor and care about labor issues ignore or outright dislike foreign labor, thinking (erroneously) that foreign labor steals jobs and drives wages down, rather than what they really do, which is support the economy by doing the hardest work for truly exploitative wages.

In fact, I wonder if this is why the NPP - which seems pro-dual-nationality for (some) foreign professionals, but is not in favor of relaxing restrictions on foreign professionals and certainly not a great friend to foreign blue-collar labor - didn't show. Hmm. NPP, I luv you guyz, but come on. You're losing me here.

In any case, two things I noticed about foreign laborers at the rally: first, that they mostly wore surgical masks (unlike most Taiwanese workers there) because they were afraid of being identified and fired, a point explicitly made in their speech. Second, that while Taiwanese workers were fighting to have fair labor laws, the foreign workers were in some cases fighting to have the labor laws apply to them at all: many of those present held signs demanding that foreign care workers be included under Taiwanese labor protections, which they currently are not.

The airline, telecom and railway workers also interested me: as they pointed out in their speeches, their bosses are the government, and yet these new labor laws will screw them over, too.

Not everyone in the government is blind to this: the Taipei City Labor Bureau commissioner, Lai Hsiang-ling (賴香伶) marched with protesters in solidarity.

After listening to all of these speeches and chanting the usual anti-government slogans, we walked from DPP headquarters to what we thought was going to be the Legislative Yuan. On the way, I saw a marriage equality sign that said (in Chinese) "We can't get married but no matter - home, life, all not given". I quipped to a friend, "I'm surprised nobody has a sign that says "the birthrate is so low because nobody has time to fuck!" He replied that, in fact, someone on stage had said that (I missed it - I miss a lot, what can I say) but there was no sign. Too bad.
25550434_10156005592896202_8532511006777992822_n
Clashes with police

I noticed something I hadn't seen before - though it is possible they have always been there and I just hadn't taken note: police cameras. Every few yards, one of the police officers watching the march was filming it.

When we hit Zhongshan and Zhongxiao Roads, however, a line of police appeared and would not let us continue up Zhongshan - trying to force the crowd to instead walk west, past Taipei Main Station. Organizers asked the crowd not to do that, as the route they'd applied for had them going up Zhongshan Road, whereas the police said they were not allowed.

There are conflicting reports of what exactly happened: the organizers were saying that the police were blocking an intersection that they had been approved to march through, with some commenting that this was to create conflict. Others say that the police announced the protest violated the Parade and Assembly Act and that was the reason for the blockade. Some say this was a ruse to simply stop the protest, as there was a possible intention to storm the Legislative Yuan (again...I suppose).

I don't buy either of these. Why would the police want to create conflict? Peaceful protests can be - and usually are - ignored. Protests that end in brawls grab media attention. Why do you think the KMT did exactly nothing to stop - nor to answer the demands of or even acknowledge - the old DPP-led protests during the Ma administration?

In terms of the second, with legislators and high-profile government employees there, and with it having been all over Facebook for weeks, there is no way this march "violated" any laws. Come on.

In any case, the protesters started chanting "police let us through!" and several intense clashes broke out, though nobody appeared to be seriously hurt (I was right there for one of them).

Finally, the police gave way after several attempts to push through, and the intersection - one of Taipei's largest and busiest - was occupied.

Here's my pet theory as to what happened:

By virtue of it being at Zhongshan and Zhongxiao Roads, the protest stopped outside of the Executive, not Legislative, Yuan. Apparently - according to a friend - a meeting was being held in there at that time. In any case, it was so heavily blockaded and surrounded with barricades and barbed wire that there was a clear government fear of an attempt to storm it.

UPDATE: the forced move into the intersection was, according to one of the organizers, an intentional move by the rights groups to start a conflict.

25990614_10212983882905554_308783228_n

What resulted was an occupation of a major intersection - garnering more media attention than any of the previous labor protests, possibly the most since the 200,000-strong marriage equality rally - that is still ongoing. There are still clashes with police as people attempt to storm the Executive Yuan (see?) and apparently the police, according to a friend, are starting to look 'ready'.

I left around 4pm, because frankly, I lost my grandpa this morning. It was time to go and take care of my own headspace.

25591687_10156005736516202_3916066747835617745_n
Migrant workers are afraid to show their faces for fear of retribution from their employers
25995030_10156005415061202_1898092970850570019_n
Fake temple talismans mocking Premier Lai's comment about low pay earning "merit"
But watch this space - a lot of people don't have much hope for a massive, Sunflower-scale labor movement. I hope they are wrong - labor issues affect us all, and there seems to be potential from what I saw today for the sort of mass cooperation among different groups that could well propel the cause forward. It's true that labor isn't "sexy" in the way that cross-Strait relations are, and that the students who drive a lot of social movements in Taiwan generally don't have much work experience - that is to say, they are not laborers themselves - and so might not be as attached to the cause as it doesn't affect them directly. It's also true that it's hard for labor to fight back against the ever-evil boss class, the ones keeping their wages low, refusing to hire a sufficient workforce, and keeping toxic work culture expectations in place, as not everyone can take time off or afford to lose their job.



25660409_10156005414221202_8494411837760928893_n


25660014_10156005736291202_466716630621401234_n
"You can abuse President Tsai!" the people who set these up told me helpfully. She makes noise if you slap her. 


25659324_10156005414901202_4886302150588105248_n
Is there anything more Taiwanese than a bunch of workers in nylon vests drinking Wisbih (or is it Man Niu?) at a protest?
25594368_10156005414021202_3348584127556073843_n
More migrant workers
25594275_10156005736656202_6746953129747846880_n

25594181_10156005414041202_7500267209753205517_n

25594089_10156005415876202_4308591650430007038_n
Although there were kids at the protest, I got the feeling it was much angrier and more visceral than typical family-friendly Taiwanese demonstrations
25593947_10156005415296202_4203428892509517683_n

25593942_10156005414461202_4535951715959109970_n

25593855_10156005414016202_4700846291397527561_n

25592160_10156005736451202_2365049570889102892_n

25592133_10156005421236202_1463402081024972191_n
My favorite protesters, every time
25592032_10156005415796202_8604107496430303816_n

25591893_10156005414046202_8497804106264261380_n

25591735_10156005414311202_8713403892840526695_n

25591704_10156005414456202_1223931402819455621_n


25591653_10156005415401202_340261667078569152_n


25591650_10156005737016202_8824067452407538233_n


25552089_10156005737096202_4507551466880078822_n


25550626_10156005415826202_7664864885914753029_n


25550428_10156005415986202_4468445136251196090_n
Even government workers are upset



25550297_10156005736596202_3990704696723254342_n
A reference to the "the slogans are taped" comment by one legislator



25507995_10156005736406202_5226852495036502477_n
Lots of different groups came together


Saturday, November 11, 2017

No, immigrants are not the key to the labor shortage

Anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with Lao Ren Cha or me personally knows that I am staunchly pro-immigration. It's one of the very few beliefs I actually share with libertarians. I do believe relaxing immigration requirements - not only in terms of naturalization but in terms of the laws that regulate us once we arrive - will be to Taiwan's benefit, not just my own. We contribute to the economy and deserve commensurate rights under a fair-minded policy, and those of us who wish to remain permanently deserve better tools to be able to do so, because we are generally good for Taiwan.

However, I have to say, I'm a bit sick of people referring to a sickly cousin of this argument as a defense of immigration reform: that it will "help reverse brain drain" or that it is "the key to the labor shortage" - that, in order to stem the dual problems of Taiwanese talent moving abroad and a cratering birth rate, we need more immigrants. Despite immigration, in my view, generally being a good thing.

In his recent statements, Premier William Lai was not entirely wrong - we cannot discuss how Taiwan will keep pace in a (so sorry for the lame cliche) "globalized world" (barf) without discussing immigration (link above):

“It is impossible to talk about talent recruitment without touching upon immigration policy,” Lai said, adding that the Cabinet would discuss how to create a friendly immigration environment before revealing its new policy.


However, he is doing more harm than good in referring to us as the key to bolstering the labor shortage:

Lai made the remarks in the last of five news conferences held this week to address the nation’s “five industrial shortages” — land, water, electricity, talent and workers.

No.

First of all, Mr. Lai, do you know what kind of damage you are doing when you revise the new labor regulations in a way that hurts workers on one day, and quite literally on the very next day you talk about attracting immigrants? What kind of message do you think you're sending?

Since perhaps you are not aware, Dear Willy, I will tell you:

You are sending the message that you don't care about Taiwanese labor - that you do not care about the average voters, that you do not care about your own people - because you intend to replace them with immigrants anyway. This does not help. This only lends credence to the notion that the government not only isn't concerned about plummeting wages as a result of ostensibly "cheaper" immigrant labor, but that they are depending on it. It only renders true the recent criticism that the current DPP-led government not only doesn't care about Taiwanese workers and doesn't think they are strictly necessary, but that they likely never did.

You are essentially saying that it is acceptable to crap all over Taiwanese labor rights, because it doesn't matter - you can always get some foreigners in here to do the work.

That not only hurts you, Willz, it also hurts us. It makes us look like the bad guys, which we never wanted to be. We just wanted to build lives here while also being a positive force that contributed to Taiwan. We never wanted to be fingered as replacements for Taiwanese labor, nor the reason why it was deemed acceptable to further worsen an already problematic set of new labor laws.

Stop it, WillWill. Just stop. No.

In fact, as wrong as New Bloom was regarding immigration regulations in other countries, they are right about the disastrous effect the DPP's  changes are going to have not only on Taiwanese labor and the brain drain, but to their own popularity. They are going to pay for this, and you know what? They should.

The solution to Taiwan's labor shortage is simple. Four words.

Treat your workers right. 

In fact, I have a problem with the whole "brain drain" debate. I'm a bit sick of people like me - "foreign talent" - being touted as a "solution". Not just today, from the mouth of Billy Lai here, but generally.

I'm not sure why more people are not saying this, because it's bleedin' obvious to me - the solution to Taiwan's brain drain is for Taiwanese employers to treat their workers like human fucking beings.

Pay them a fair wage - a wage on par with what they can earn in other countries at a similar level of development (and some that aren't, like China). Then the most talented among them won't feel the need to go abroad to seek work. Paying them more further makes it easier for them to start families, which will help slow or reverse the declining birth rate. Considering that Hsinchu County has a high birthrate (a student once told me it was the highest) in the country and is an affordable place to live while still having a number of professional jobs thanks to the tech sector, it is clear that given a reasonable income vis-a-vis expenses, that Taiwanese want, and will have, children. Save a number of women who have figured out quite rightly that traditional family roles in Taiwan don't offer them a particularly good deal in life and have therefore decided to remain child-free, if they're not having kids it's not because they've lost interest - it's because they feel they can't afford them. Pay them more and watch that magically change! WOW!

I'm a regular magician, I know.

Give them reasonable working hours. Quit it with handing them work in the late afternoon and then promoting a corporate culture where they feel pressured to stay late to finish what they've just been given. Quit it with the hiring of one person to shoulder a workload best split between two or three people - seriously, stop that. You're not helping yourself or anyone. Tired workers are not innovative, efficient or productive workers. Give them reasonable paid vacation and let them leave at a reasonable time (5 or 6 - with overtime being a rarity asked for and paid for accordingly when an issue is truly urgent - and no I don't mean like now where every issue is urgent, because they're not and you know it - and a full 2-day weekend, even if it doesn't always fall on traditional weekend days).

If they have more free time not only are they better workers - win for you! - but also they have more time to get busy, which means more kids.

Give them room for growth. Stop pushing them down and then wondering why they're not happy with it.

Stop being dicks to them - stop it with the nonsensical orders, the immature management, the babying, the corrupt practices, the passive-aggressiveness and the lying. Not every boss is like this, but for those you are - we see through you. The average Taiwanese employee is no idiot, and knows your stupid game. Why do you think they want to leave? Why do you think they aren't having kids, when they're too tired to do the horizontal tango and too broke to feel they can give their would-be kids a good life?

Basically, treat them well. 

Honestly, most talented Taiwanese who leave probably would have preferred to stay, bar a few adventurous types who just want to see the world (fair - I'm like that too). Taiwan is a great place to live. It's a developed country. It's friendly and fairly safe. It's their home, and enjoys a high standard of living and relaxed lifestyle. Few would leave if they felt they got a fair shake here. Some might start their own businesses, but many would work for you, and you'd be better for it.

So stop saying people like me - or workers from South and Southeast Asia - are the "solution" to this problem. We can and do contribute to Taiwan, and many of us do want to stay. The smarter ones among us support immigration reform, but make no mistake - we are not your easy answer.

The solution is and always was to treat your Taiwanese workers better.

Protect this with robust labor laws, and engender it with moves toward a deeper culture shift in which the crap doesn't sluice from the big roosters top through cages stacked like a chicken coop to the workers clucking below.

Treat. Your. Workers. Better.

Stop using us as an excuse. Engage with us for what we can contribute, not as a way to avoid improving local conditions. By touting us as the solution we never wanted to be to a problem you helped create, you hurt us, you hurt Taiwanese workers and you -William Lai and the entire Tsai administration - hurt yourselves. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

My latest for Ketagalan Media: Taiwan needs to do a better job of protecting domestic workers

You may remember my post a few weeks ago about the proposed changes to regulations aimed at protecting foreign blue-collar labor, and my absolute fury over allowing employers in Taiwan who had previously sexually abused a foreign worker to hire one again after after a few years, with a lifetime ban only after repeated offenses.

A few things I've learned since then - Taiwanese women are not protected either (the vast majority of domestic workers in Taiwan are foreign women, however), and although Taiwan has a sex offender registry, it is not open to the public and therefore potential foreign employees at this time have no way of knowing if they are taking a job with a convicted sex offender.

So, I've written up a new piece for Ketagalan Media on this issue. As a foreign woman, albeit one of comparative privilege, it is important to me.

I hope you'll take a look.