Workers protest against Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – An estimated 5,000 workers marched through the streets of Taipei Saturday in a protest against the policies of President Ma Ying-jeou less than a week after the opposition Democratic Progressive Party rallied more than 150,000 protesters.
The latest march focused more tightly on the concerns of laborers and low-income classes who feel Ma was only listening to business interests, organizers said.
The protesters’ main demand was that the survival of workers should come before profits for business groups.
Life was becoming more and more expensive, with prices for consumer goods and services rising while benefits and pensions were contracting, the protesters said. They also accused the government of procrastinating with reforms of the labor insurance system. Ma has become the target of critics who say that each time he proposes a set of reforms, he is unable to go through with them because he backs down for opposition coming from within ruling Kuomintang ranks.
The march wound its way from the older, western parts of Taipei to Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office Building. Protesters were reportedly planning to throw eggs and tomatoes at the building, even though crowds are usually kept well away.
Marchers held up placards and banners with some of their basic demands, including calls for no cuts in benefits and maintenance of the basic safeguards, higher taxes for major corporations, and opposition to free trade zones.
The labor movement has been canvassing support against eventual plans to separate wages for domestic and foreign labor, which would make it cheaper to employ imported workers. Unions fear this would not only take away jobs from Taiwanese workers, but also force local wages down.
Another sore point has been the government’s refusal to raise the basic minimum wage. Despite a proposal from its own Council of Labor Affairs for a rise beginning last January 1, Premier Sean Chen tied an eventual hike to other economic factors, making it impossible for changes to be introduced amid the current climate.
Last year, labor groups organized protests on October 28 and November 25, while last Sunday the DPP mobilized more than 150,000 people to express their fury at a range of government policies, including the mismanagement of the economy and the widening gap between rich and poor.
Organizers said that if Ma still chose to evade their demands, they would continue to take to the streets and voice their demands for fairer treatment.