As Covid-19 disrupts livelihoods, #HimpunanMarhaen2021 gathers grassroots workers to voice grouses, lobby for wellbeing

Tuesday, 05 Oct 2021 02:46 PM MYT


KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 5 — As Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc on the economy with many families struggling to put food on the table, the Gabungan Marhaen movement aims to shine the spotlight on the troubles faced by grassroots workers, to call for better policies for their protection.

In a virtual press conference today, the group announced #HimpunanMahaen2021, to be held in conjunction with the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on October 17.

The event will see a series of national forums being held between October 12 and 17. There will also be an online gathering for one week from Tuesday to Sunday.

The forums will focus on key thematic issues every day, and among the topics that will be discussed include food security, employment, housing, agriculture, indigenous matters and the informal sector.  

The term ‘marhaen’ refers to the ordinary, common people who are oppressed, inferior and marginalised.

It was introduced by Soekarno, Indonesia’s first president who led the country’s independence movement against Dutch colonialists. 

The term has since been used widely as a symbol of people power.

“What is the purpose of the establishment of Marhaen? In 2018, after the new government was formed, Malaysian politics was muddled with race and religious narratives, drowning the marginalised and the grassroots voices. This proved a need to build a people’s movement to highlight the plight and aspirations of Marhaen.

“Fundamental issues like land, housing, work, health care, and the environment need to be built on support and solidarity across all races and religions. Marhaen is a coalition of grassroots communities, community and union collectives, likeminded NGOs, grassroots communities’ leaders, and activists,” one of the programme’s organising members, S. Arutchelvan said.

His fellow member E. Nalini said that Marhaen aims to incorporate and strengthen all such communities into work plans and activities, pointing out that each sector has its demands and necessary actions.

“Together, all these sectors form a democratic and grounded mechanism that functions as a national coordination committee. This movement inspires to represent most people’s interests in our country, namely the working class and marginalised communities,” she said.\

Throughout 2019, Marhaen established and reactivated many grassroots networks and had also submitted demands to the government.

“Marhaen feels that if the government does not meet those demands, then a mass rally will be organised in October 2020 to highlight the plight of the Marhaen. However, the initiative was stalled following the Covid-19 in February 2020 and the ‘Sheraton Move’ which toppled the then Pakatan Harapan (PH) government,” Arutchelvan added.

He said the unprecedented situation resulted in a mass rally that could not be organised, lamenting that even the new government had to be given the movement’s demands again.

“Despite these setbacks, Marhaen is committed to building a people’s movement to fight elite and racial politics in the future. How and when was Marhaen established? In January 2017, activists involved in the Oppressed People’s Network (Jerit) decided to build a

new movement called Marhaen that will cover more sectors, a new collection with a new mission. Originally, Marhaen was a combination of three large groups: grassroots groups such as urban settlers, plantation workers, contract workers, farmers, and other sectors that Jerit and Parti Sosialis Malaysia (PSM)  once organised,” another organising member, Rosheen Fatima Mutalip said.

She said that the second group is made up of collective ones such as progressive arts and culture groups, Buku Jalanan, Dapur Jalanan, environmental groups, anti-capitalist activists among others.

“The third group is more formal NGOs such as Suaram, Bersih, Agora, Empower and others also invited to participate in this initiative. Who are the members of Marhaen? The prominent members of Marhaen have been categorised into two parts: the Marhaen community coalition and collective social groups, Networks and NGOs,” she added.

The main components of Marhaen are as follows:

  • Government Contract Workers Network (JPKK)
  • Farm Worker Support Committee (JSML)
  • Coalition of Urban Settlers and Housing (GPBP)
  • Low-Cost Flat Committee
  • Farmers Coalition
  • Breeders Coalition
  • Environmental Coalition
  • Informal sectors workers

Rosheen said that Marhaen has established a network with the Orang Asli or Orang Asal communities, lorry drivers and fisherman communities.

All of the latest updates on #HimpunanMarhaen2021 and  Marhaen’s campaign and activities will be posted on Facebook @GabunganMarhaen

Those who are keen on joining the event may register here.

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