Radicalism, shifting alliances and managing labour’s political space
This chapter picks up the story of labour’s continuing search for a legitimate political voice, with a focus on the period from the mid 1940s through to the late 1950s. Much of the academic writing that has dealt with this period has stressed the apparent artificial and manufactured character of Thailand’s labour movement. Whereas trade unions in other parts of South-east Asia became politicized through an entanglement in radicalism and anti-colonial struggles, it has been claimed that workers in Thailand remained largely ‘passive’ (Wilson 1959: 83), ‘never felt [themselves] oppressed as a group’ (Blanchard 1958: 288) and possessed little or no class or political consciousness (Thompson 1947: 243). As a result, organized labour, to the extent to which it existed at all, has been seen largely as the creation of non-labour interests thus ‘lacking in substance’ (Vichote 1991: 101) and of little or no political significance (Fogg 1953; Mabry 1979: 47-48).