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06BANGKOK1342 LABOR LEADER PREDICTS LARGE MARCH 5 ANTI-THAKSIN TURNOUT

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“55162”,”3/3/2006 10:26″,”06BANGKOK1342″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”CONFIDENTIAL”,””,

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

031026Z Mar 06

“,”C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 001342

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/02/2016

TAGS: ASEC, ECON, ELAB, PGOV, PREL, TH

SUBJECT: LABOR LEADER PREDICTS LARGE MARCH 5 ANTI-THAKSIN

TURNOUT

 

Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Alex A. Arvizu. Reason: 1.4 (b,

d)

 

1. (C) Summary: A senior Thai labor leader, who played a key

role in organizing labor turnout for the 1992 pro-democracy

demonstrations, said there are signs that the coming March 5

anti-Thaksin rally will attract a huge crowd fueled by

protesters arriving in Bangkok mid-week. Somsak Kosaisook

said he believed only Thaksin\’s resignation would calm the

current political crisis, but that he would not go

voluntarily due to fears that his (and his supporters\’)

business interests would suffer. Somsak said he expected

protesters and security forces to prepare for the rally

peacefully, but that an overflow crowd always had prospect of

provoking incidents if the police were ill-prepared.

Thailand\’s weak labor movement remains largely dominated by

state-owned enterprise workers, and is throwing its weight

behind anti-Thaksin firebrand Sondhi at least in part to

promote its anti-privatization stance. End Summary.

 

2. (C) Thai labor leader Somsak Kosaisook told Laboff in a

March 2 meeting that he expected Thailand\’s labor movement to

turn out in force for the planned March 5 anti-Thaksin rally

being organized by media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul and other

government opponents. Somsak estimated that labor groups

would provide about 30,000 members of a rally audience he

anticipated would exceed 100,000. He said public

transportation lines, particularly train routes from

destinations in the South, had become fully booked by

mid-week, as friends and relatives of Bangkok-based

protesters prepared to attend the Sondhi-led rallies for the

first time. Most of these travelers would be staying at

residences of acquaintances throughout Bangkok over the next

several days, Somsak said, with labor groups having rented a

number of rooms at hotels near the rally venue, Sanam Luang,

to assist members in showering and obtaining food on the day

of the rally.

 

3. (C) Somsak now heads the informal Thai Labor Campaign

network after a long career in senior union positions,

including as General Secretary of the Confederation of State

Enterprise Labor Unions – Thailand\’s largest labor

confederation. Somsak played a lead role in organizing labor

opposition to Thailand\’s military government in the 1992

uprising, being in charge at that time of mobilizing

supporters from Thailand\’s South to attend pro-democracy

rallies. He said the situation today is not comparable to

1992, however, with current political dissent focused on one

person, Prime Minister Thaksin, rather than a military

regime. \”This entire crisis can easily be resolved,\” he

said, \”if Thaksin handed power to someone else in his party.\”

 

4. (C) Somsak said he was convinced that Thaksin would not

leave the Prime Ministership voluntarily, as he and his

allies feared that his stepping down would lead Singapore

investors to reverse the Temasek-Shincorp telecommunications

deal that has helped inflame the current political crisis.

Somsak said he believed Thaksin\’s future actions would be

based more on his own business interests than the good of the

country, and that labor leaders feared that only military

intervention would resolve the current crisis. He also said

he had been told by police commanders that they were tasked

this week with fielding 5-10 new officers from each province

to travel to Bangkok to assist with crowd control efforts.

 

5. (C) Somsak said he doubted that either side, the security

forces or the protesters, would purposely instigate violence

on March 5. He worried, however, that a much larger than

normal crowd would be difficult to contain if police were

ill-prepared, particularly if the public gathering overflowed

the Sanam Luang area or began a spontaneous march to another

location, as has happened in the past. He said that any

violence would be regrettable if it gave the government an

opportunity to declare a state of emergency. He said that he

and his fellow labor leaders were counseling caution and

urging protesters to remain peaceful. Somsak also said that

a threat to strike issued by Sirichai Mai-Ngam, who holds

Somsak\’s former position as leader of the state enterprise

unions, would likely not come to pass, and would not be part

of an effort to pressure Thaksin\’s resignation. He said it

was intended to put the military on notice, however, that

unions might try to disrupt water and electricity supplies in

the event of a coup.

6. (C) Somsak dismissed Thaksin\’s rural base of support as

\”paper thin,\” derived only from electoral vote buying that

targeted the poor and the uneducated. \”We have two

countries,\” Somsak said, \”the rural Thailand which elects our

government, and the urban Thailand (Bangkok), which expels

it.\” The rural Thais, he said, would not care whether

Thaksin was forced out, and many would attend a pro-Thaksin

rally on March 3 simply to receive monetary handouts and take

advantage of free transportation to Bangkok. \”Even the

anti-Thaksin crowd filtering into Bangkok early might go to

the pro-Thaksin rally just to get the money,\” Somsak said,

adding \”I thought of going myself, by I think I\’ll just send

someone.\”

 

7. (C) Somsak said that the urban labor movement now sided

with the Bangkok middle class, academics and media moguls

such as Sondhi due to the overwhelming view that Thaksin had

lost his moral legitimacy to lead the country. Somsak said

that labor\’s anti-Thaksin sentiment did not spill over into

favoritism towards any political party, such as the

Democrats, over Thai Rak Thai (TRT). (Somsak himself is

running for the Thai Senate on April 19, with no declared

political affiliation.) He said that any number of current

TRT leaders (naming Commerce Minister Somkid, Agriculture

Minister Sudarat and Industry Minister Suriya as examples)

would be acceptable as a replacement for the Prime Minister.

 

8. (C) Somsak stressed that labor leaders\’ main economic

interest in opposing Thaksin was to derail the proposed

privatization of the electical utility, EGAT, and a number of

other state-owned enterprises. Resentment towards

privatization dovetailed with public anger at the

Temasek-Shincorp deal, he said, due to perceptions that

valued national infrastructure assets were being sold off to

foreigners, with benefits accruing only to a privileged class

of wealthy business leaders allied with Thaksin. Such

resentment was further fueled by suspected corruption by

government officials in a range of projects, including the

construction of Suvarnabhumi Airport.

 

9. (C) Comment: The Thai labor movement, while united in its

opposition to Thaksin, remains fractured and disorganized and

is considerably weaker than it was in 1992. With less than

300,000 total members out of a workforce of over 30 million,

it is following, rather than leading, the current wave of

anti-Thaksin sentiment. Somsak is reported to have told

colleagues in recent planning meetings that if labor did not

take a stand now with Sondhi, nobody would take them

seriously in the future. Thaksin himself, along with his

Labor Minister, Somsak Thepsutin, has made half-hearted

attempts to appeal to labor groups in the last month, most

recently offering to raise the minimum wage nationwide to 200

baht per day (USD 5). Minister Somsak, however, announced

yesterday that such an increase was not in the cards, due to

opposition expressed by the Thai business community.

 

BOYCE

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Written by thaicables

July 10, 2011 at 4:28 am

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