For workers, by workers: Imagining a better Workers’ Party

By Rosa

In this post, Rosa, a member of our broader community, reflects on the class composition of the Workers’ Party and calls for a greater representation of working-class Singaporeans. Views expressed by community members do not necessarily represent the views of the Barisan Sosialis team. As a reminder, if you would like to contribute (anonymously or otherwise), please send an email to barisansosialis@gmail.com or use our contact form.

Victory from the jaws of defeat! What a spectacular reversal of fortune! The future of the Workers’ Party (WP) has never looked so bright.

But like a car with manual transmission, the WP needs to shift gears in order to capitalize on or even preserve its momentum. Pritam Singh’s comparison of the results to Pearl Harbor is apt, as the Japanese, drunk on the gains they made, eventually lost by persisting with their existing strategy. What worked before 2020 may not in the future or, worse, may be detrimental.

Diversity in Parliament! Diversity in the Workers’ Party?

What image comes to your mind when I say worker? Blue collar, hands on work, wage labour? What about lawyer, former researcher, counsellor, consultant, lawyer, lawyer, lawyer, analyst, economist, and activist.

With the possible exception of activist, do any of these match that image of a worker? No? Well, these are the occupations of the 10 WP MPs.

This isn’t to delegitimize them, but rather to point out that these occupations reflect their specific upper middle-class positions, which do not represent the workers of this country. This does not bode well for the future of the Workers’ Party.

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” George Orwell, Animal Farm

We only have to look at the PAP 4G leadership for proof. The PAP’s over-saturation of military and civil service elites has rendered them aloof and detached from the public, as evidenced by their missteps and recent electoral losses. As Leon Petra so eloquently put it back in 2016, this is due to “the danger of group-think, self-rationalisation and self-congratulation”.

Yet, can the same not be said for WP’s current batch of MPs? The percentage of lawyers in WP is slightly higher than those from the military and civil service elite in the 4G leadership (40% vs 38%). If PAP feels like a military junta and civil service with extra steps, WP feels like a law firm with extra steps. Will the population be happy or even willing to trade one clique of elites for another? Offering an alternative to a party that rules with an iron fist with one that rules with a velvet glove is really opposing for the sake of opposing.

A workers’ party should not be dominated by upper middle-class aristocrats compelled by a sense of noblesse oblige to fight for the common man. The irony of sending a RI boy to argue with other elite school alumni on the subject of better and more equal education system is not lost on anyone.

Sengkang was won by those with elite educational and professional backgrounds, which may define the image of the party in the coming years. Already opponents of WP are trying to alienate its voters, new and old, from these elite members. They do so with accusations of how WP doesn’t represent workers anymore, of how it is losing touch with them by pursuing middle-class voters with more “Westernized” views.

I have no doubt that this will form the next wave of criticism against the WP. Wearing a light blue shirt might show your solidarity with the blue collar workers, but it loses its potency when an increasing number of the candidates put forward are not workers.

Of Workers For Workers By Workers!

My plea is ultimately not one of exclusion, but one of inclusion. It is in no way an attempt to undermine the current candidates and their commitment. What I am asking for is more inclusion of those that are working class and/or do not have an elite educational background. Not to be used as poverty porn, but to use their own plight to empathize with their fellow workers who are undergoing these same challenges.

In order to fully represent the workers of Singapore, the WP must simply include more workers. It has to be a cross-section of Singapore workers if it wants to cater and appeal to them as voters. Already the Marine Parade team is far better and balanced composition than the other teams. They are worth emulating, but more can be done.

Sylvia Lim asked voters to imagine a better Singapore, and they in turn answered the call. I ask not just members of the party, but all those that want it to succeed to imagine a better WP. One that is more accurately for workers, by workers, and answerable to workers!

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