The Position of Labor in Civil Activism: The Labor Movement and the Classness of the Bersih Movement in Malaysia

Thursday, 14 July 2016: 16:50
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Nobuyuki YAMADA, Department of Sociology, Komazawa University, Tokyo, Japan

     Rapid industrialization in some developing countries can lead to the rise of various social movements. On the one hand, the cluster of manufacturing is likely to build the site for organizing and to activate the labor movement. On the other hand, the growth of the “affluent” middle class is also likely to build various NGOs and to vitalize civil activism. Malaysia is supposed to be one of these countries and to experience the vitalization of various social movements including the labor movement, particularly in globalization.

     This paper addresses Malaysia as a case of negative relationship between the labor movement and civil activism. Malaysia has currently experienced the upsurge of various social movements, one of which is pursuing the reformation of the election system, which is called BERSIH, “clean” in Malay. The BERSIH movement mobilized a vast amount of people from all ethnicities and brought about the serious defeat of the ruling party alliance, the National Front at the general election in 2013.

     The success of the BERSIH movement can be partly based on the mobilization of dissatisfaction of people from various ethnicities and classes including young “precariats”. It means that the BERSIH movement can also be a class-based movement, and it can be, in a point of view, intimate with the labor movement. However, the labor movement has actually no position in BERSIH. This paper examines the causes of such a “silo” of the labor movement in Malaysia. Firstly, it reviews the history and current situation of the labor movement. Secondly, it also examines the formation of civil society and the upsurge of the BERSIH movement. And thirdly this paper asserts that the institutional restrictions for the labor movement and the lack of leadership primarily prevent it from being associated with civil activism and that they can construct a “silo”.