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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Karl Marx on Singapore

Karl Marx On Singapore

After I died in 1883, almost half of the world came under governments that called themselves after me -- marxist -- although most of them misinterpreted my teachings. But that is only to be expected. That is the nature of power. Today, however, marxism has lost to capitalism and even in Russia and China, it is being rolled back. My name has even become a dirty word because in 1987, Lee Kuan Yew arrested and imprisoned under the Internal Security Act, 22 religious and social activists as "marxists" even though everyone knew they were not. Partly because of that incident, I decided to come to Singapore and see for myself how my philosophic and political theories were faring.

As I began my studies and observations, I came to the startling realisation that Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP is far more capitalistic than even the United States. Nowhere do I find such unbridled profit-making given such encouragement and incentives by the State than in Singapore. Nowhere have workers, whom I had devoted my earthly life studying and defending, so few rights as in Singapore.

Why do I, Karl Marx, say that?

Think about it. Which government in the world welcomes investors (to make profits) with such a generous welcome carpet of incentives, from decades-long tax holidays to co-investments using State money, to cutting out all bureaucratic red tape that may have been necessary to ensure proper compliance with safety, environmental and workers' health matters, to providing land (that may be better reserved for citizen use), industrial estates and ready-made factories, to water and other utilities, etc, etc, etc?

And what of workers' rights? I find that working hours are long, overtime work usually cannot be turned down, pay low, Workmen's Compensation inadequate when workers are injured, hospitalisation and health care costs usually borne by the workers themselves rather than by their employers, no provision for gratuity or pension upon retiring, low retrenchment benefits, etc, etc, etc. In short, other than the job itself, employers provide little else. This is hardly better than the conditions I studied in the 1850s. Conditions for the working class here are little better than in Industrial Britain and Europe.

In other countries, there are several large mitigating factors that ameliorate the lot of the workers. For example, workers, who form the majority of the voters, can vote out of power, any government that is too pro-business and anti-worker. Not so in Singapore where Lee Kuan Yew has ensured that nobody dares to go into opposition politics, let alone develop a party strong enough to form an alternative government. Thus, the workers lose one major plank of their power.

Then also, in other countries, workers have unions to help them organise themselves against their employers, who enjoy all the power and advantages (as I have shown in my book Das Kapital). In Singapore, workers have only the National Trades Union Congress which is a PAP organisation and therefore does not act for the workers' benefit. Instead, this NTUC even calls for workers' wages to be organised in such a way that it can easily be cut whenever a company fails to make profits, such as in a downturn or recession, all under the guise of saving jobs. This latest development, called the Monthly Variable Component, can only have been dreamt up by the employers themselves.

In other countries also, workers do enjoy some Social Security. If they become unemployed, they can usually go on the dole. If they become homeless, there are usually civic and charitable organisations to help. For many of the ills that may befall a worker and his family, there exists help. Not so in Singapore. Under Lee Kuan Yew, this harsh "Nothing Is For Free" policy means that the rich enjoy the best of the land while the workers, who have only their labour to sell, are put at a tremendous disadvantage without the usual ameliorating factors found in other countries.

It is to fuel this 'right' to make profits by the rich (usually foreign) investors, that Lee Kuan Yew has adopted an open door policy to foreign workers. Today, one in four people on this tiny island of 225 square miles, is a foreigner. I find this amazing and in my travels all over the world since my demise, I do not find another country so open to the inflow of foreigners, all for the benefit of the investors here.

Think about it. Life is all about living space. When one in four is a foreigner, this means that when you go to work, every fourth person in your bus or MRT train is a foreigner, crowding you out. When you eat lunch, every fourth person who vies with you for a place at the food centre is a foreigner. To put it another way, every fourth bus along the roads is completely filled with foreigners. Every one and a half cars in every train is completely filled with foreigners. Every fourth car in the traffic jam is a foreigner's car. Similarly for housing and recreation spots. Life is about living space and on this tiny island, there isn't enough to begin with. All because the PAP believes in high GDP growth (probably to justify their million-dollar salaries) when the question that can rightly be asked is, "High GDP growth for whose benefit?" And "At what economic, social and political costs?"

I pity the workers in Singapore. They have a government and union totally pro-business and anti-worker. Even 36% of their salary every month is taken away for the government to be locked up in State coffers. Whether they get that back in one lump sum at 55 is unsure -- the PAP, using a very senior minister, Howe Yoon Chong, did propose locking away that sum forever until death and giving only a small living allowance. Variations of that policy already exist in the CPF of today. I pity the workers. Nowhere in the world have I seen such deplorable treatment in a country that prides itself as modern and progressive. Apparently, Lee Kuan Yew never studied my works or if he did, never found sympathy for them or his workers.

So I will end with my call which I made more than a century ago: "Workers (of Singapore) unite!" Remember that you have rights and can change the system. Be brave when you go to the polls in the coming General Election. You have only your yokes to overthrow and the whole country to gain!

Karl Marx