I have a friend working with a multi-national company who was sent to S. Korea . 2 weeks into the posting, he turned up at the office and found that workers have blocked the entrance. Rather baffled, he pushed his way through the blockage.When he got to the office, he asked around to find out what was going on. It turned out, to his surprise, that the small strike/protest was encouraged by the management. The S. Korean govt was about to sign an FTA( Free Trade Agreement) and there were some "minor" disadvantages for that industry. The protest ended after a few days. The goal was not to overturn the FTA but to send a signal that they (the industry) should be taken for granted and their interests traded away next time policies were made. For my firend who has never seen a protest in 3 decades living in Singapore, he exact words were "Like that also protest?!".
I was in LA many years ago when the cleaners (Americans call them janitors) went on strike and protested their working conditons- they were basically bullied by employers who sometimes underpaid them Most of them were Mexicans and many were illegal workers. The Californian govt had "close one eye" to the large number of illegals from Mexico that cross over the border to work. The protesters were taking a big risk because some of them could have been deported but they could no longer take the "injustice". After 2 days, toilets all over LA began to stink and public sympathy build up for these lowly paid workers - they were not asking for higher pay....only asking to be paid on time what the pay they were promised. Within a week, the LA authorities promised to enforce labor laws that protected both legal and illegal workers to ensure that these janitors were protected.
In the 90s, I did a self organised tour of Europe and stayed in Athens for 5 days. On the last day, I planned to take a cab or public bus to the train station. After I paid for my hotel stay, the guy at the hotel reception told me, "Bad day to travel today". I stepped out of my hotel and instantly understood why. Protesting workers blocked the roads preventing buses and cars from moving. Thousands of workers were involved in the protest. Stranded and unable to get to my destination and somewhat curious, I decided to move around and observe the protest more closely. The protestors seemed to be concentrated at the parliament house where it was most rowdy. I made my way to the parliament house to watch the protest. The protesters were shouting loudly but lets put it this way : it was all Greek to me! Suddenly the protesters got very excited, extremely rowdy and the shouting increased in volume. A Greek minister or MP was making his way out of the parliament. I could see the protesters were very angry and were trying to prevent the minister from getting into his car. The police and body guards were able to create a path to the car. However, when the car door opened and the minister was about to get in, more than a dozen raw eggs was thrown at him and his suit was really messed when he was driven off. I found out later that that protest was organised by labor unions who wanted better pay for workers.
The distrust among workers, govt and business in Greece continues until today. Greece was a poor country and when they switched to Euros in 2002, the govt borrowed heavily to spend creating an illusion of wealth and GDP growth. A few years later everything fell apart. The tension between workers and govt reignited and we see violent protests in Greece today. There is little anyone can do the change what is coming for the Greeks - rising unemployment and economic pain. At a time when unity is needed to overcome its problems, the society appear to be disintegrating and falling apart.
I put up 3 stories to show the good, bad and ugly side of protests. Is not having protests all good? Well, they don't have protests in N. Korea because the citizens know that protesters "disappear" very quickly after they show up and the disappearance is permanent! Over time fear becomes habit and it becomes a silly idea to protest there. Their brothers in S. Korea are their diametric opposites and fervent protesters. Those who argue that protests hurt a countrry's economic progress just have to look at N. Korea and S. Korea. Protests are an important part of the political process and when used by a populace applying the right values can lead to a better society e.g. civil rights movement.
Singaporeans were good at organising protests in the 50s and 60s. We protested against colonial rule. We protested for independence. We protested for workers' rights. Even in the 70s, some Singaporeans protested against the Vietnam War. Over time effiecient police action against protesters, tightening of rules on public assembly and control of the media to convince the public that protests are always bad, misguided and destablising turned this whole nation into non-protesters. At some point even the PAP thought it was not so good an idea for the population to be so obedient so they carve a a small place at Hong Lim which they called the Speakers Corner. People started going there to organise small protests when they feel that things were not done right in Singapore. I guess that the govt felt a bit uneasy when they discovered that using digital cameras and Internet tools such as YouTube, the small place has a bigger reach than expected. The govt decided to put up their cameras and people wondered whose entertainment those recordings were going to become (police? ISD?) and activities at Hong Lim started winding down.
There is no lack of reason for an "Occupy Raffles Place" protest. We have higher income inequality than most places like New Zealand and Australia where people turn up to protest income inequality. There is no lack of corporate greed and excessive executive compensation - the ratio of top executive pay to ordinary workers is higher here than in most places where people protested. The social contract here broken by the high cost of living and rising poverty have left many here feeling tehir sacrifices are not being repaid but still...there are no protests.
Singaporeans have over the years lost their ability to stand up for what is right. There is habitual apathy, mind your own business attitude and many Singaporeans under years of authoritarianism learn to leave solutions to the govt because political participation by ordinary citizens always comes with a big price - police action and humiliation. For those who will turn up, the fear is others won't and the few will be left holding the bag....ridiculed by media for being misguided and a segment of society that believes this govt can do no wrong and should be trusted all the time to solve our problems. The reluctance to protest is not the result of a lack of problems in our society but a deeply ingrained fear and many years of authoritarianism that resulted in an excessively apathetic and obedient society.
KUALA LUMPUR -- Australia and New Zealand started the rolling global protests denouncing corporate greed but capitalist countries elsewhere in Asia were reluctant to demonstrate, with the turnout in wealthy Singapore almost zero.
Singapore leads Asia in 'Occupy' rally reluctance[Link]
Protesters gathered across the world on Saturday to denounce bankers and politicians over the international economic crisis, with violence rocking Rome where cars were torched and bank windows smashed.
Protesters had gathered in Japan and across Southeast Asia, but in the hundreds at most. Singapore didn't even manage that.
The pro-government Sunday Times appeared to take pride in the non-turnout after a call to gather at Raffles Place in the financial center failed to materialize.“What's missing in this picture?” it asked on its front page above a picture of three policemen patrolling an almost empty Raffle Place.
An unidentified person had set up a Facebook page and Twitter account calling on Singaporeans to protest against income inequality and a lack of accountability in the country's sovereign wealth funds, prompting a police warning.
Singapore bars demonstrations, gatherings or speeches without a permit except at a tiny “Speakers' Corner” in a small park at the edge of the central business district