Visiting Thai Labour Museum in Bangkok
Visiting Thai Labour Museum of Bangkok
This tour belongs to the program “Bangkok Best Museums Tours” by Rock Around Asia
Visiting Thai Labour Museum in Bangkok aims to evoke the historical development of labour conditions in Thailand since the great reforms of Rama V (who bravely abolished slavery and corvees system), the evolution of workers’ rights through union representation and social regressions in the various military dictatorships that followed 1932 revolution. Beyond the themes presented in each of the seven exhibition halls listed below:
- Corvees system and Slave Labour in Ancient Thai Society
- Major Social Reforms of the Fifth Reign
- Chinese Coolies
- Labour and 1932 Change in Government
- From World War to the Cold War
- Thai Labour Today
- Labour Arts & Culture
Thai Labour Museum explains clearly and chronologically (based on historical documents) the appearance of communist ideology in Thailand, supported by some intellectuals, politicians and student leaders of Thammasat Univeristy. Worried that ideological buildup and by the risk of contagion, the elites have, in one hand, supported the Americans during the Vietnam War (in exchange of counter parts such as roads contructions, security and business partnerships) and one the other hand, military coups, brutal and violent, which finally led to the dramatic events of 1973. A parallel is rather interesting to learn from these events and those of May 1968 in France that profoundly changes the French society since.
The Thai Labour Museum is probably the least known exhibition in Bangkok and hardly anything has been written or said about it. Located just next to Makhasan train station, the building was originally the railway police station, then the railway Labour Union Office and finally became the Thai Labour Museum on the 17th October 1993. In this discreet single storey building a very important story is told, one that is often sad or shocking. Before becoming the apparently easygoing country that Thailand is today, workers only had basic rights, if any, and Thailand went through several tumultuous and violent political and social episodes in which workers revolted. Each of the six rooms in the museum depicts the evolution of the labour movement and their fight to obtain fair treatment.
The Labour Museum dedicates a large part of the space to the several and unforgettable tragedies that occurred in clothing factories, due in part to the poor working conditions or nonconformity to basic safety regulations. On 10 May 1993, 188 workers, mostly women, lost their life in the Kader factory fire, the worst industrial accident in Thai history. The Kader factory was manufacturing stuffed toys for United States and European countries and the museum displays the remains of burnt toys and a model of the factory and its weak points. Sadly this is still happening in many developing countries in the region.
Another infamous event occurred at the Hara Jeans and shirt factory in the early 70s, when owners were making large profits by exploiting workers, yet again mostly women. To increase profit, the employers decided to reduce wages, leading to a three-month strike that was in the end unsuccessful. As employers did not meet their demands, the workers seized the factory and started their own low cost production, calling themselves the ‘Workers Unity Factory’. The dispute wasn’t resolved and when the 1973 Coup occurred, many workers preferred to flee into the jungle because they feared retaliation.
Another section describes the fight to eradicate child labour, a problem common to many countries undergoing the transition from agricultural to industrial economy. Unscrupulous firms searching for cheap solutions to reduce costs ended up detaining children without giving them time to rest and paid them very low wages. These factories were known as ‘hell factories’.
The museum is full of artefacts, posters, newspapers and historical documents marking each step of the labour fight and its evolution. Despite the museum’s discreet appearance from the outside and the rustic displays, the Labour Museum is a lot more interesting than we anticipated, a real eye opener showing a less advertised side of Thailand history, much beyond the pretty beaches and glittering temples we all associate with this beautiful country. What is described here is still very much a reality even today. Sadly, we hear similar stories from other emerging countries far too often.
It is also important to tell that Thai Labour Museum is not financially supported by Government.
Bangkok Best Museums Tours Program
- History of Thailand Museums Tour in Bangkok (One Day Tour)
- Contemporary Thai Society Museums Tour in Bangkok (One Day Tour)
- Provided by Eric Monteil Photography ©
- Thai Labour Museum
- International Trade Union Confederation