The Power of Disruptive Protest in Driving Reform: Explaining the Failed case of Labour in Malaysia

  • Lilian Miles Middlesex University London
  • Richard Croucher


We reflect upon Malaysian labour’s efforts in advocating reform. Its actions to focus political attention on labour issues at the 2013 general election are analysed. Although the election presented a rare opportunity for labour to bring workers’ issues to centre stage, it did not do so. Piven’s theory of “interdependent” power provides a useful lens through which labour’s failure can be analysed. We show the enormous challenges preventing Malaysian labour from activating “interdependent” power. Critically, the state has systematically maintained artificial distinctions to divide working people from each other and fragment them as a class. The use of state force to crush opposition elements and its employment of highly discriminatory industrialisation policies have additionally militated against labour's efforts to mobilise as a class to secure reform. Piven's theory likely has limited applicability in these authoritarian and non-liberal contexts.


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