The glass facade of George Town’s premier business hotel, Traders Hotel (formerly Shangri-la Hotel), where Jerit cyclists were to hand over their memo to Guan Eng at 1.30pm
Pakatan leaders were inside attending a conference to outline their “New economic vision for Penang and Malaysia”. US multinational electronics corporation, Agilent Technologies, and the Shangri La hotels chain were the sponsors of the event, to which participants had to pay RM250/person to attend. Ironically, the session scheduled just before lunchtime was “Getting the politics right to enable sustainable economic growth that is socially just.”
But nobody cared to ask the workers and representatives of marginalised communities outside what they thought of this vision. Instead, the front door of the hotel was locked while hotel management and security looked concerned. Not that the Jerit cyclists were desperate to get in. All they wanted to do was hand over their memo and leave. Still, it would have been a great gesture if the Pakatan reps inside had invited the cyclists and activists in to listen to the aspirations and hopes of workers and marginalised groups. The Pakatan folks would have been seen as pro-people.
As it stands, the Pakatan leaders in general look increasingly pro-market, pro-investor and pro-business while lowly paid workers, who are struggling to make ends meet, do not seem to figure very highly on their list of priorities.
Jerit cyclists peering through the glass to see how the rich wine and dine: The poor in Malaysia can only dream of the lavish life-styles of the upper middle-class and the rich.
The rich top 10 per cent of the population earn 22 times what the bottom 10 per cent earn, making Malaysia one of the most unequal societies in East Asia in terms of income disparities. The Jerit campaigners and the Malaysian Trades Union Congress have been calling for a decent minimum wage in the country that would enable workers to live in dignity. A minimum wage would also help the economy as it would give the public, especially workers, greater purchasing power.
Outside the locked main entrance: Penang state exco member Abdul Malik holding the fort and negotiating with police, who had given the cyclists, who arrived at 1.10pm, half an hour to disperse or risk arrests. Also present was Sungai Siput MP Jeyakumar Devaraj.
Guan Eng was delivering his closing remarks at the conference and came down at around 1.45pm after being told that the police had given the Jerit folks a deadline to disperse. At first, he was expecting to walk out of the main entrance. But even the Chief Minister was not allowed to exit through the main entrance. Instead, the hotel’s top management ushered him to the smaller front door near the reception. Once he stepped outside, Jerit representatives finally got to hand over their memo.
Guan Eng said he supported their campaign – though he was able to spend just a couple of minutes with the Jerit representatives.
PRM’s Gary Nair flags off the cyclists at Swatow Lane in Penang after treating them to a meal at his Passions of Kerala restaurant in New World Park
Apart from Gary, Deputy CM Ramasamy and a PKR state exco member who said they supported the campaign, the response from other ruling politicians in the state wasn’t exactly one of whole-hearted support. “They could have been more pro-active in supporting the cause of workers,” Suaram’s Choo Chon Kai told me.
This was what the Pakatan leaders were busy talking about inside the hotel:
|Day 2, Friday, December 6, 2008|