Apparently mobilised by the country’s labour movement, tens of thousands of protestors took part in street demonstrations on 2 March in the capital Bangkok over the prospect of electricity privatisation. Protests on this scale are unprecedented during prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s three years in power.

Anger with the government has been triggered by the Thaksin administration’s move to privatise the country’s state-run monopoly power utility, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT). The government hopes to register EGAT as a public company, and raise 1.8 billion USD through the sale of shares on the Thai stock market.

Bangkok has chosen April.30 to launch its plan. But on Tuesday afternoon, an estimated 50 000 protestors led by EGAT’s labour union showed up outside the public utility’s headquarters on the north-eastern fringes of Bangkok to express their displeasure at the privatisation move.

The crowd was even larger than the protest on 23 February when 10 000 of EGAT’s employees took to the streets publically challenge the government.

Support for EGAT’s workers has grown steadily grown in recent weeks, bringing in unionists from 41 state enterprises, labour rights campaigners, grassroots activists, students and the urban poor.

Some demonstrators came with placards, such as “Privatising electricity will destroy Thai society” and “Service and public welfare before money and profit.”

In addition to opposing the sale of the utility, EGAT’s labour leaders have questioned the lack of transparency in the deal, accused the government of helping politically connected individuals to profit from the sale of shares and expressed concern that the price of electricity may rise after privatisation.

Even though Thaksin has declared that he would not deal with the labour leaders, there are signs that he may be changing his mind. Bangkok’s leading newspaper The Post has reported that Thaksin has agreed to talk with EGAT’s union leaders, although he still appears confident that his government will get its way, saying he was “not the kind of person who would collapse under pressure”.