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Message-ID: <Pine.3.89.9805031346.B5742-0100000@bloor>
Date: Sun, 3 May 1998 13:08:59 -0400
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
From: "P. K. Murphy" <bi008@FREENET.TORONTO.ON.CA>
Subject: May Day In Asia

Workers vent anger at economic collapse

From The Irish Times,
Saturday, May 2, 1998

Violence and mass protests replaced traditional Labour Day celebrations yesterday as Asia's workers took to the streets to vent their anger over rising unemployment and food prices.

In Seoul, thousands of workers and students fought with riot police after a May Day protest march degenerated into violence. Reports said at least a dozen protesters and several riot policemen were injured during the violence which broke out when a crowd of 20,000 workers and students marched to protest against massive layoffs.

Some two million workers staged rallies throughout Japan, amid growing public anger and fear over the record unemployment rate of 3.9 per cent and the nation's worst post-war slump.

Japan's largest union held a demonstration march for the first time in seven years to vent its fury.

"Employment is the most important matter for any workers," the chairman of the Japan Trade Union Confederation, Mr Etsuya Washio, told 100,000 people near Yoyogi park in Tokyo.

Taiwan saw its biggest ever trade union rally when some 20,000 slogan-chanting protesters marched through Taipei to demand more job protection and equal educational opportunities.

"This is to demonstrate our determination to join the forces of the country's labourers to press the government for the rights we deserve," said Mr Fang Lai-chin, leader of the "Dream for a New Society" event organised by National Enterprises Association, representing 250,000 people.

China's commemorations were more muted. Newspapers called for workers to support economic reforms and there were no public rallies for fear of spontaneous demonstrations by the disgruntled working class.

More than 20 million Chinese state-sector workers are expected to lose their jobs by the end of the year as the government attempts to make loss-making and heavily over-staffed state enterprises fit for free-market competition.

In Malaysia, badly affected by the economic woes, trade union officials warned that unemployment may get worse.

"Workers are worried. There is anxiety among them. The fear of being unemployed is growing," the secretary-general of the powerful Malaysian Trades Union Congress, Mr Govindasamy Rajase karan, said.

Malaysia has reduced its growth rate forecast for 1998 and the economy is preparing for more corporate failures, which are expected to rock markets.

The Prime Minister, Mr Mahathir Mohamad, in his workers' day message, appealed to workers to be patient.

"We have to tighten our belts a bit to ensure our country continues to develop," he said, adding the future was not as bad for Malaysians as for others in the region.

Thai authorities used May Day to begin a crackdown on the estimated one million illegal workers.

About 5,000 people gathered in central Bangkok for a ceremony presided over by the Prime Minister, Mr Chuan Leekpai. In his speech he urged workers to face the fact that the economic crisis would result in major bankruptcies for the private sector and unemployment would increase.

The economic slump has sent Thai jobless levels to almost two million. In the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, an opposition-led march swamped a pro-government rally as more than 3,000 Cambodian workers took to the streets.

The marchers, chanting and carrying banners calling for wage increases and paid holidays, were led by the prominent dissident, Mr Sam Rainsy.

Throughout East Asia, millions of workers have been laid off since the regional economic crisis started in mid-1997, and millions more could lose their jobs this year if the recession continues.

Hong Kong marked its first May Day under Chinese rule without official fanfare, but 40 members of a pro-China group handed a petition signed by 170,000 people to the government demanding more jobs. - (AFP)

Copyright: The Irish Times
Contact: itwired@irish-times.com

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