chapter  5
20 Pages

Capitalist expansion, regime dynamics and the rise of enterprise unionism

The mid 1970s has often been seen to mark the beginnings of workers’ involvement in Thailand’s politics in the form of an emerging extra-bureaucratic interest group occupying a legally sanctioned space within the broader context of a developing civil society (Mabry 1977: 935; Wehmhörner 1983: 494; Vichote 1991: 60). As later chapters will demonstrate, this space for labour organization proved to be less expansive, secure and robust than these writers imagined. Nonetheless, these views do raise a significant question. Why, at this particular time, were workers given the opportunity to occupy what appeared to be a secure political space within which they could build their organizational capacities and have a legitimate voice in shaping government policy? This chapter argues that the provision of this space represented a formative moment in the establishment of a new mode of political control over labour in the context of an expanding industrial economy, the occurrence of unprecedented levels of conflict and militancy and the rise of a new alliance of social forces intent on establishing their dominance through the erection of a representative, parliamentary political carapace. The chapter begins with a discussion of the economic and political changes that followed in the wake of the twin coups of 1957 and 1958, focusing especially on the impact these had on organized labour.