More than 30,000 people rallied in Kuala Lumpur for this year’s May Day to protest against the plan of government to introduce a Goods and Services Tax (GST) from April 1st next year. The act was passed, with the support of the government MPs, in the last parliamentary sitting. With the introduction of this tax, it is expected that the cost of living of the working class, as well as the middle class, will escalate further. This would be another burden for most people, who have already been facing subsidy cuts and inflation. A recent survey shows that 62% of Malaysians are not in favour of the GST.
The National Front (BN) government of Najib Razak is under pressure to cut the budget deficit by introducing austerity measures. With GST, the government plans to increase its revenue through a tax on ordinary people rather than increasing taxation on the rich. The billionaires in Malaysia are continually increasing their wealth, even in uncertain economic conditions while the lowest 40% of the population are becoming poorer with stagnating wages as living costs increase.
The Malaysia Trade Union Congress (MTUC) held its May Day gathering at the Dataran Petaling Jaya in the morning. It managed to assemble no more than 1,000 of its members from different unions, in spite of the urgent problems facing their members. With only 6% of the workforce of Malaysia unionised, a lot of attacks against the rights of workers and unions are being carried out by the capitalists and the government. Among them are union busting, denying the right to form unions, refusal to adopt a minimum living wage, discrimination against migrant workers, discriminatory outsourcing and contract policies, long working hours, unpleasant working condition, no right to strike and others.
Although the MTUC leadership recognises the increasing hardship that is faced by the working people, there is no clear fighting strategy outlined to strengthen the unions as well as the rights of the workers. The union leaderships have either aligned themselves to opposition parties or to the ruling parties for any hope of change, and this shows the right wing bureaucratic agenda of the leadership. Unions should take an independent working class position to fight for workers’ needs rather than working with pro-capitalist parties that have no solutions to working class problems.
Meanwhile, at the Dataran Merdeka, the anti-GST rally in the afternoon of May Day was participated in mostly by young people as well as the leaders and supporters of opposition political parties. But some of the Pakatan Rakyat leaders are not clearly against GST and they have opposed it only because ‘the time is not right’ and also in order to use the people’s anger on this issue to weaken the ruling government. Along with free market capitalism, GST is one part of its agenda to enhance the profit-oriented system, but an opposition that supports the same system that is supported by the ruling government would not come out with alternative policies that would satisfy the needs of the people.
CWI Malaysia intervened in both of the May Day events and sold almost 250 papers. In our material, we highlight the fact that, in the true spirit of May Day struggles, young people and workers should join in solidarity to fight capitalist measures such as GST and TPPA (Trans Pan-Pacific Agreement) that aggravate our social and economic difficulties. And, to realise this, besides strengthening the unions and developing a clear leadership to fight for the satisfaction of economic and social needs, an independent mass working class party with a socialist programme needs to be built for political change that is oriented to the needs and democratic rights of the working class and young people.