By Paul Hampton
Students and workers have taken to the streets of Bangkok in protest at the military coup on 19 September, despite universal indifference from “democratic” bourgeois governments around the world.
On Tuesday 19 September, the elected government of billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra was deposed by a military coup, apparently with the backing of the “constitutional” monarchy.
Three days after the coup, on Friday 22 September, a few hundred young people, calling themselves the “19 September Network” demonstrated in one of Bangkok’s busiest shopping areas. They were joined by some workers, including Giles Ungpakorn, a university lecturer and member of the Workers’ Democracy group, one of the SWP’s international affiliates.
The placards read: “No to Thaksin. No to the coup”, the demonstrators demanding the army restore democracy.
Ungpakorn was quoted in the Independent, saying: “I have never supported the Thaksin government. We were protesting against Thaksin’s human rights abuses long before the anti-corruption protests began.”
He said the situation under the coup was worse than under Thaksin. “We were allowed to protest under Thaksin,” he said. “There was no ban on demonstrations. The media weren’t completely clamped down the way they are now.”
The military junta, euphemistically known as the “Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy”, immediately announced a ban on all “political activities” and assemblies of more than five people. The military have taken over all Thai TV channels and blocked foreign news channels such as CNN and BBC.
Ungpakorn said the reason there has been so little protest against the coup so far is that Thailand’s ruling class is secretly delighted. Thaksin was the first to really provide political programmes for the poor. There is this argument that he won elections fraudulently, but there’s no real evidence for that. I think the rural poor voted for him because he provided policies for them. That’s democracy and if you don’t like it you have to set up a political party and offer something better. In this country it’s the rural poor who respect democracy — and it’s the educated elite who don’t.”
The reaction of most governments around the world — of complete indifference — suggests the bourgeoisie across the globe is happy to see the armed forces take over, as long as its interests are protected. Reaction from Blair’s government was typically muted.
Yet British capital has big interests in Thailand. Tesco, Boots, Marks & Spencer and Cadbury Schweppes operate in the country. Thailand is Tesco’s third largest market, after South Korea and Britain, generating sales of just under £1 billion last year. It has a 200-strong chain of stores and is planning to open a further 170 there this year.
For ordinary Thais, the coup represents a return to the cycle of repression. Between 1957 and 1973 Thailand had an uninterrupted period of military rule.
On the 14 October 1973, a mass popular uprising, led by students, but significantly involving urban workers, overthrew the military dictatorship. On 6 October 1976 civil rights were crushed by a military coup.
By 1988 Thailand had a full parliamentary democracy once again. In 1991, the army made a last ditch attempt to maintain significant political influence by staging a coup against a corrupt, but democratically elected government. In May 1992, the military was overthrown, by another uprising in Bangkok. May 1992 resulted in the restoration of parliamentary democracy and the eventual reform of the political system.
In the struggle to restore democracy, the working class played a vital role. Between January and October 1973 there were 40 strikes, including a one-month strike at the Thai Steel Company over a victimisation. There were three hundred strikes in the following two months. On May Day 1975 a quarter of a million workers demonstrated; in 1976 half a million workers took part in general strike over price increases.
In the demonstrations that finally finished off military rule in 1992, over half of union reps surveyed took part. Some trade union banners were seen on the marches, and unionised bus conductors let demonstrators on for free. Rail workers planned a strike but it was called off when the military resigned.
Working class organisation today is weak, with union density standing at 3.3%. However in public utilities, rail and air density is over 50% and Thai Airways is 70% unionised, including technicians, pilots and stewards.
Thai workers again hold the key in the fight to restore democracy — and socialists in Britain should support our Thai brothers and sisters with solidarity.
19 September Network statement
The “19 September Network against the Coup d’etat” consists of social activists, students and regular citizens who are opposed to the method of building democracy at gunpoint. There is no such thing as building democracy through destroying democracy at the same time.
We want to state that:
We do not accept the political power of the military to intervene in the democratic system, by saying that they have intervene to solve the social conflict, since we see that the political conflicts and freedom of expression under the constitution are normal in democracy. The military’s role is not to solve a political problem through a coup d’etat. Such an act reflects the lack of political awareness and is regressive for the development of democracy. Any process to solve the political situation should happen within the scope of law and the constitution, following standards of international democracy.
We ask the military to return to their divisions and bases, and stop their involvement in the coup d’etat process. We ask them to stop intervening in the basic rights of the people - such as freedom of expression - and to return political procedures to how they were in the regular period before the 19 September 2006 coup d’etat.
We would like to invite people that are against the coup d’etat to express their thoughts through:
• using the colour black as the symbol of opposition (wear black shirts, ties, or armbands)
• turning on the front lights of your car during the day
• Organising talks and discussions on democracy within the family, company, organisations,
friends, and at schools/universities.
19 September Network against the Coup d’etat -www.19sep.org