Taiwan's Workers' Movement
The future of Taiwan's workers is a multifaceted subject, closely intertwined with the nation's political climate, labor laws, and the evolving relationship with mainland China. The mainland's attractiveness to Taiwan's workers in terms of certain labor benefits also plays a significant role in shaping the workforce's future.

Wang Juanping
Executive Director of the Labour Rights Association in Taiwan

I am Wang Juanping, the Executive Director of the Labour Rights Association, and I have been long involved in the labor movement.

Question: You are known as the Iron Lady of the Taiwan workers' movement. Why did you decide to get involved in the workers' movement?

After graduating from university, I noticed that despite getting a good education, many of my classmates struggled to find work unless they had a strong family background. Even those who graduated from postgraduate studies ended up working as salespersons. Those with better family connections could find jobs immediately. I felt that society was not fair.

My first job was in an electronics factory. I was deeply impressed by the unfairness of the overtime pay. The base salary was around 15,000 Taiwan dollars, but the overtime pay was not calculated by the hour. Instead, you would receive 50 dollars after working several hours of overtime. The boss would tell you, “Go have a late-night snack.” It was not calculated according to the wage.

I left that company and joined the Labour Party to fight for labor rights. I realized that many people were not aware of labor laws. To fight for labor rights, you must understand labor laws. Hence, I started studying labor laws and continued to participate in the movement, educating more people about labor rights and encouraging them to form unions.

In the beginning, I learned from seniors how to fight for workers’ rights. First, you need to understand labor laws. Like a doctor, you need to diagnose the problems workers face during labor disputes. What are the damages they have suffered? How can we fight for their rights? What is the purpose of the labor movement? Many people don’t know why they are fighting, but we do. We are fighting for national liberation and class liberation. That’s how I started getting involved in the labor movement.

Question: How difficult is it to fight for workers' rights in Taiwan?

The most shocking experience was during the election of the Taiwan Railway Union. The labor line was strong, and the KMT’s party department had received the message. They used the meeting rules to obstruct the entire agenda. A worker representative jumped onto the stage to fight for procedural fairness. I saw the railway police, who were sent by the railway bureau, enter the venue and arrest this person.

The whole process shocked me greatly. After being released, the man could not speak. He said, “Don’t ask me anything, I need to go home quickly.” Later, I learned that he was tased during his arrest. He was too scared to speak, a very terrifying situation. His fear and haste to get home left a deep impression on me.

I realized that fighting for workers’ rights is not easy, and it’s particularly challenging to form an autonomous union. The labor movement in Taiwan is not easy.

Taiwan’s labor movement is very important, inspired by labor history. It’s tough now. Taiwanese workers have always been suppressed because their demands are low, and they only engage in legal struggles.

Workers’ consciousness is crucial. First, workers are reserved about political participation because they don’t know how to express themselves. Secondly, the organization rate is low. Of the 12 million workers, only about 500,000 have joined unions. So, communication with unions involves very few people. Small unions with fewer than 30 people account for 97%, meaning only 3% of unions have more than 30 members.

Moreover, some people in the labor movement support the Democratic Progressive Party. They can’t discuss some issues well and can’t fight for the future of workers. There are also some people without political positions. They don’t know what they’re doing in the labor movement. After fighting for workers to get their unpaid wages from businesses, they don’t know what to do next. The infighting within unions is fierce, and those who take charge may not always stand on the workers’ side.

Question: Does Taiwan also celebrate Labor Day on May 1st?

During the long period of martial law in Taiwan, it was such that you couldn’t gather and discuss matters with two other people. If three people were found discussing and someone reported it, they might have ended up in prison. After the lifting of martial law, related activities could be organized and relevant rights could be fought for. There was labor law at that time, but people didn’t know how to fight for their rights.

After the lifting of martial law, I started working in 1988. That year’s May 1st Labor Day was the first time after the lifting of martial law that workers took to the streets. I followed these predecessors to the scenes of labor-capital disputes. We were not very familiar with the laws, but we were about to march. At that time, we were preparing for the parade, figuring out how to propagate so that these workers could come out. Then, fight for their rights, and how to promote the importance of workers’ rights on May 1st. I got on the propaganda vehicle and then had to talk to everyone about Labor Day. At that time, I only knew to tell everyone that today is May 1st Labor Day. Why are so many shops still working? You workers should take a day off, do you know? Do you know your rights? I think at that time I didn’t know that there were more workers’ rights, I wasn’t clear, but I went to the streets to talk about this. Since then, the Labor Party has organized related activities for May 1st Labor Day every year, mainly to awaken workers’ consciousness.

We did labor education for the parts that these workers didn’t know about. We propagated it to various unions on May 1st, and we even distributed flyers in front of various union companies. We have done all of these. Moreover, in the early days, there were some labor-capital disputes. Just after the lifting of martial law, the labor movement was surging, fighting for overtime pay, fighting for year-end bonuses. Because of participation in this, everyone’s awareness of labor rights has slightly improved, but only the consciousness of rights and interests has emerged without the emergence of labor consciousness.

Therefore, every year on May 1st Labor Day, we will do a promotional talk with everyone about raising labor consciousness.

What’s interesting is that we talked about related workers’ rights issues on May 1st. We never talked about political issues. There was a year of May 1st, the Sunflower Movement year. Everyone also said that they didn’t want to talk about political issues. We just talked about what the demands were on May 1st. A few groups talked about how the Kuomintang was, and what the ECFA (Cross-Strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement) issue was like, because there was no deep discussion about this so-called free trade issue at the meeting, there was no deep discussion.

Because during our preparation process, we went to the Ministry of Economic Affairs to hold a press conference. I and several unions also attended the press conference. We believe that the chaos should be resolved quickly, and then we oppose this occupation of the Legislative Yuan and then oppose this crude way to oppose ECFA.

That night, after seeing the meeting record, I spent about 4 hours writing 6 lines of words, how do you clearly state your position, and then tell everyone, today we take to the streets is also everyone’s joint invitation to participate in. So we will not participate in it, we will also have our own May 1st activities, but regarding the unity of workers, does everyone have different views? This matter caused a great response.

So everyone put aside their political considerations, just for the labor movement, everyone gathered together, and everyone had a common language because the direction was the same, so everyone walked together, this kind of cooperation was done.

Question: Where is the future of Taiwan's workers?

Peaceful reunification across the strait is the most advantageous direction for Taiwan’s workers. How to tell them, not necessarily tell them, so we use a worker interview team to let them come to the mainland to take a look. Everyone likes to compare, I let you know what the mainland is about. For example, the Shanghai interview team, when I came, I just looked at Shanghai. I wanted the locals to tell me what it was like before, what it is like now, and what its development process is like. So I am very concerned about the labor laws across the strait, and because a union law was revised this year, I also gave my opinion. Taiwan’s union law is seen from the perspective of cross-strait relations. Many workers we brought over for visits saw clearly that many may just be (stigmatizing the mainland), and he will adopt a more reserved attitude.

The mainland is now very attractive to Taiwan, that is, maternity leave. Taiwan’s maternity leave is only two months, I’m sorry but there seems to be confusion in your question. The text seems to discuss the history of Labor Day in Taiwan, the workers’ rights, and cross-strait relations, but your actual question is “Does Taiwan also celebrate Labor Day on May 1st?”.

To answer your actual question: Yes, Taiwan does celebrate Labor Day, also known as International Workers’ Day, on May 1st, similar to many other countries around the world. It’s a public holiday in Taiwan and is observed with various activities that highlight the rights and achievements of workers.

As for the detailed history and future of Taiwan’s workers, it’s a broad and complex topic, involving Taiwan’s political history, its relationship with Mainland China, labor laws, workers’ rights, and more. If you have more specific questions about these topics, feel free to ask!

Kris Yang