The world has once again celebrated International Labor Day this May 1st. This year’s May 1 celebration has assumed greater significance as the world economic crisis wreaks havoc on people’s lives especially the working class. Workers all over the world have been losing their jobs. What should workers do to address their worsening situation? Should they just bear it and hope that they do not lose their jobs?
BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
The world has once again celebrated International Labor Day this May 1st. This year’s May 1 celebration has assumed greater significance as the world economic crisis wreaks havoc on people’s lives especially the working class. Workers all over the world have been losing their jobs. So far in the US, companies have shed 5.1 million jobs in the last 17 months. Unemployment in the US has reached 8.5 percent, Europe around 7.7 percent and Japan at 4.4 percent. These may seem low by Philippine standards, but for advanced capitalist countries, their current unemployment rates are already all-time highs, considering the size of their economies and their population.
And yet the worst is not yet over. The three centers of capitalism are enmeshed in a deep recession. Japan has experienced a 12.7 percent decline in GDP in 2008. Germany’s economy has dropped by 2.25 percent and some analysts are projecting that it would contract by 4.6 percent this year. The US economy is likewise projected to contract by 4 percent with the expected 5 percent decline in personal consumption, which is being precipitated by the rapid loss of jobs.
Japan has already declared that this is its deepest economic crisis since World War II, so has Germany; US economists have been comparing the current crisis with the Great Depression of 1929. Some analysts even think that the current crisis may even be worse considering the severity of the unemployment situation.
Closer to home, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects zero growth in Asia, including the Philippines. The IMF said that countries relying on exports such as the Philippines would be greatly affected by the economic slowdown in the US, Europe, and Japan. Already, lay-offs are being reported especially in the export sector such as garments, toys, and electronics. Even the country’s main source of dollar earnings – remittances of overseas Filipinos – is expected to, at most, flatten out.
What should workers do to address their worsening situation? Should they follow the lead of the Philippine government, which has been begging companies not to retrench workers? The Arroyo government has announced that there would be no wage increases this year. It has also encouraged companies to implement flexible work arrangements, reduced work days and hours, and job rotation.
Should the still employed among Filipino workers just be thankful that they have, so far, kept their jobs and agree to the conditions being set by their employers? Should they just try to bear their reduced work days? Should they keep on tightening their belts with the rise in prices of basic commodities even as their wages have barely been able to cope up with it? Should Filipino workers follow the lead of some mainstream US trade unions in agreeing to wage cuts?
However, there are other workers’ actions in other countries that could be emulated by Filipino workers. In Japan, temporary contract workers who have been the first to be laid off are holding protest actions at the headquarters of major companies.
In the US, the baristas of Starbucks are fighting back. They formed the Starbucks Workers Union (SWU) without the assistance of big traditional unions. The management of Starbucks refused to recognize the union but the baristas relied on the power of collective action to push for better wages and working conditions, and to address their co-workers’ grievances. They have employed confrontation tactics, and organized pickets and rallies.