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Pro-democracy labour movement rallies in Thailand as general election looms

Photo by Peerapon Boonyakiat/HaRDstories
Photo by Peerapon Boonyakiat/HaRDstories

BANGKOK – On International May Day, hundreds of Thai and Burmese workers took to the streets in central Bangkok and other major cities in Thailand.

In the morning, the pro-democracy labour movement, Network of Workers for the People, marched from Democracy Monument to the Government House in Bangkok, calling for better welfare for workers and the removal of military leaders from the government.

In the evening, the Workers’ Union, a network of Thai and Burmese workers, rallied in the shopping district where they celebrated Labour Day with speeches, songs, and various booths informing people about different issues in the labour movement. These ranged from establishing adequate welfare and recognizing sex work as legitimate work to addressing the challenges faced by migrant workers. The Burmese migrants also called for democracy in their home country.

After dissolving the House of Representatives in March, Thailand’s general election is set for 14 May. A recent Suan Dusit poll indicates opposition parties Pheu Thai and Move Forward could secure over 60 percent of the vote, potentially ending the Palang Pracharath Party’s reign, led by the military leaders behind the 2014 coup. For the past nine years, Thailand has made no progress in ensuring the right to associate and form labour unions.

Currently, migrant workers and gig workers cannot form a union under Thai law. Additionally, the law does not allow general unions where workers from different sectors can unite collectively. Labour activists have again called for Thailand to ratify the International Labour Organization’s conventions 87 and 98, which recognize the freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining.

Throughout Thai history, the celebration of May Day has been intermittently suspended by military coups. Labour activists held the first recorded celebration of May Day in Thailand in 1946. The idea gained traction the following year when thousands of workers joined in. However, a few months later, the military staged a coup d’etat and prohibited the celebration for years to come. It was recognised as a public holiday for those who work in the private sector almost thirty years later.