Thai Labour Museum

A Small Quirky Museum Full of History

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 it is today, and just like most developing countries, workers only had basic rights, if any, and Thailand went through several tumultuous and violent 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.

Bangkok Labour Museum

Opening Hours: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday - 10:00 to 15:00
Location: Ratchathewi Road Rd., Makkasan, Ratchathewi, Bangkok 10400 (just next to Makkasan Train Station)
Price Range: Free, but a small donation is appreciated

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