The Perfect Cover

October 30, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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This website will carry a 7-part series of articles comprising of excerpts from Dr Chee Soon Juans latest book Your Future, My faith, Our Future. Heres Part IV.

How does the government convince workers that they have to accept lower and lower salaries and, at the same time, contain (or at least deflect) their unhappiness? The New Economy is a perfect cover. Globalisation, the PAP says, is a phenomenon no one can control, which is the cause of the widening income gap and one that cannot be prevented. And if these forces are beyond the governments control, the PAP cannot be blamed for the workers woes. Workers are told repeatedly that they have no choiceglobalisation, with all its inherent drawbacks, is here to stay. With the global economy in such a situation of flux, they should consider themselves lucky just to be employed.

So, instead of examining its own policies and economic strategy, the government has shifted the responsibility onto the workers. The New Economy smokescreen is cleverly used to absolve the government of accountability, and the PAP now has served notice that if workers dont help themselves by upgrading their skills, they have no one but themselves to blame for their economic difficulties. PAP leaders go even further and attribute the problem to the inability, and even unwillingness, of the poor to plug in to the New Economy. Goh Chok Tong says that income distribution is going to widen because of those who stay in the old economy. Lee Hsien Loong warned that workers will lose out if they dont keep up. He even attributes their inability to make the grade to complacency. (To get an idea of how old this one-must-upgrade-ones-skill-in-this-New-Economy propaganda is, Goh Chok Tong was, back in 1980, already saying that training must be stepped up to enable our workers to acquire new skills and refine old ones.)

The government thus set in motion a propaganda blitzkrieg and directed its ministers and trade union officials to bombard the people with calls to upgrade their skills. This is not inherently a bad idea. But where is the voice of the workers? What about job security? No one should have to worry that the reward for fighting through retrenchment to another job will be another lay-off, with a longer struggle before employment is found again. What about job benefits that come with seniority and length of service? Job security is not guaranteed, even for a model worker who lives in a make-believe world in which he does not have a family to look after and can spend all his time continually undergoing retraining programs with unlimited financial assistance. Nonetheless, keeping workers scrambling harder and harder in the endless cycle of retraining does wonders to divert the peoples attention away from the role that PAP policies, not some uncontrollable force of globalisation, play in their financial difficulties and uncertain employment.

It is clearly unrealistic for Singaporean workers to expect the neo-liberal Singapore government to protect their interests. Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank, noted that some of the economic decisions that were made in responding to the East Asian economic crisis would not have occurred had workers had a voice in the decision making. This voice can only be heard clearly through independent labour organisations, entities that have become all but extinct in Singapore.

Your Future, My Faith, Our Freedom is sold at Select Books (Tanglin Shopping Center), Kinokuniya Bookstore (Takashimaya Shopping Centre, Orchard Road) and the SDP office (1357A Serangoon Road, Singapore 328240).