Demonstrations jolt DPP

AP, Taipei Times, Tuesday 4 November 2003, Page 4

Railway and telecom workers said at protests against the government’s privatization policies that the DPP has become too cozy with big business

Blasting air horns, thousands of railway workers recently marched to the presidential office to protest plans to privatize the rail service. A week later, employees at the state-run telecom company staged a similar demonstration.

The protests against the government of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水 扁) showed a reversal against the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). A longtime supporter of the working class, the DPP ousted the rival Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) three years ago, arguing that it had become too cozy with big business.

Now, labor supporters are levelling the same criticisms against the DPP.

With the next presidential election scheduled for March, some of President Chen’s core constituents are threatening to bolt, saying the government’s plans to privatize state industries will throw thousands of people out of work and increase already record-high unemployment. Recent polls show Chen trailing KMT candidate Lien Chan (連戰).

The government’s privatization policies only widen the gap between the rich and poor, and play into the hands of financial groups, said Shih Ming-teh (施明德), a former DPP chairman and now frequent government critic.

More than 7,000 railway union workers took to the streets in early September, followed by a rally of up to 4,000 employees of state-run Chunghwa Telecom and their supporters outside the legislature.

They accused the government of selling shares of state-run companies to boost the economy and help Chen’s re-election. The shares, they say, would be sold to companies with close ties to the government, and that would then cut jobs.

I have been good friends with the DPP for 15 years, but after only three years in power, they went back on their ideals, and that’s scary, said Chang Hsu-chung (張緒中), president of the Chunghwa Telecom Workers’ Union.

Government officials and Chen’s staunchest supporters dismiss accusations that the privatization plan is politically motivated, and Chen has said he would spend billions of dollars over the next five years to create thousands of jobs.

Because of budgetary pressures, we saw privatization as a way to provide money to the state, while we also found many state enterprises were losing money, said DPP lawmaker Tuan Yi-kang (段宜康).

But opposition lawmakers, union leaders and even some DPP members say there’s no longer much difference between Chen and his KMT predecessors, and some have threatened to break from the party ahead of the March election.

In August, some former DPP politicians formed the Pan-Purple Alliance, an informal group that has declined to deny speculation that it would compete in elections against the party.