An Open Letter to Singapore After the Riot

Marina Bay Sands

Photo by Erwin Soo

Dear Singapore,

I am angry at you. I am angry at a lot of things, but right at this moment you give me a focus for my anger. I am angry because I am tired. I am tired of the dehumanising bullshit I have been reading about how you feel about migrant workers in your country. It’s not just you, it’s Malaysia and most of the other tiger nations as well. You are better than this. We are better than this. I keep reading about how migrant workers are un-derserving. You think they do not deserve to be able to use your social services and you think they are un-derserving of the privilege of living in your great country. Get over yourselves. Your country is, as many countries are, built on the backs of migrant labour. Migrant workers are in your homes, they care for your children and your elderly. They work in your hospitals because your country suffers from an extreme shortage of nurses and other types of professional carers. The buildings and infrastructure you are so proud of would not have been possible without migrant labour. The thing’s you love could not exist without migrant labour.

You would be happy if you just didn’t have to see them. You hate it when they mill about, speaking their own languages, getting drunk and causing trouble as you perceive it. You would be happy if they could just live somewhere else. Let them live offshore, on islands away from the rest of you. Then they can just come in to do their jobs and leave you in peace when the day is done. Never mind you don’t pay them enough. Never mind the fact they tend not have sick days or annual leave. Never mind that local agents frequently lie and fleece migrant workers out of their hard earned money. You are happy to exploit migrant workers as long as you don’t give them anything. You believe that the privilege of temporarily living and working in your country for slightly more than they would make in their own country is a sufficient reward for their work.

Is it so difficult for you to understand that migrant workers are not mindless automatons? Migrant workers are human beings, just like the rest of you, even though you might want to think otherwise. Migrant workers are virtue of their rights by virtue of being human beings. Even if they weren’t, they contribute heavily to your economy. Without migrant labour Singapore would not be the nation it is. The care work that is done by migrant workers free up your citizens to work longer hours and devote themselves to the capitalist cause. The cheap labour migrant workers provide has enabled the growth of your economy far faster than would otherwise be possible.

Stop acting as though Migrant workers should be grateful for the opportunity to come and work in Singapore. You benefit from this relationship also, it isn’t a one way transaction, and they certainly aren’t exploiting you. You need to start treating all people in your country like human beings, whether they are citizens or not. Take that nationalism and use it for something positive, become proud of creating a country that values human beings intrinsically, not as a means to an end. Become proud of a country that works for the betterment of all people. Stop exploiting people and acting as though they matter less than the bin you tidily put your rubbish in.

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