Sarah Raymundo | Ideological lessons on the struggle over wages

For Ka Bel, for all that he was and for all that we can be because of him


The latest P22 increase in workers’ Cost of Living Allowance in the National Capital Region (NCR) is yet another attack on labor. After a two-year pause on wage hikes, allegedly due to the global financial crisis, this increase can only be read as a means of the Aquino regime to block a legislated P125-nationwide wage hike sponsored by Anakpawis Partylist representatives in the lower house. While this is not something new for labor advocates sitting in Congress given the anti-labor policies of the Macapagal-Arroyo administration, the ideological dimensions of this assault on labor by the Aquino regime must be noted. It creeps into the cultural fabric at a velocity that is stimulated by corporate media and it has by now become a perverse national enjoyment of a wager for change.

The Aquino clique’s perverse enjoyment of its claims to progress, transparency and accountability—processes in which we may start anew as a nation—works in two ways. First, it warrants a passionate attachment to activity, an obsession with commotion and a penchant for high drama. Think of all those tarpaulins featuring the President and his supposedly brooding yet accessible image. Notice the explosion of discourses on rights and good governance among the well-heeled and their new-found conviction for what they construe as arguments in support of morality, righteousness, citizenship, and nationhood. Sense all that frenzy for “new ideas” to be brought forth by creative, innovative and flexible minds from the academe to the advertising firms, from government to organized religion, from technocrats to marketing strategists.

Second, it sharpens the “contraction of socialist aspirations,”[i] a worldwide phenomenon brought about by the ideological campaign that announces the end of history within capitalism on account of the “failure” of different socialist experiments. This renewed enjoyment of the promise of a changed nation is less an opening up of new horizons and possibilities than a reinforcement of a foreclosure that aims to contain the system by looking at its coordinates in a “new” way but without seeking to traverse them. It brings to mind the pervert in Lacanian psychonalaysis—the subject who seeks to challenge, question and even transgress certain rules but only to reinstate them at the end of the day. What people experience as pain and pleasure (jouissance) in “renewing” things precisely to foreclose the possibility of changing a system that breeds grim conditions is perverse enjoyment. What makes this form of enjoyment even more perverse in the literal sense is the appetite for repetition that comes with it. People want to do it again and again, in heightened and more frenzied levels each time.

The perverse enjoyment of the idea of a changed nation is hinged on a particular conception of government largely shaped by the economic doctrine of neoliberalism. Under the neoliberal doctrine the following are mainly expected from government:

To make itself scarce in areas where social services are concerned – The mentality that blames the poor for the dire conditions in which they live; and that poverty is mainly due to the poor’s incapacities and flawed life choices are precisely the desired ideological result of the State roll out on social welfare. The mindset that defends government even from the mildest of criticisms from its citizens as this is counter-productive, destructive and simply uncalled for is the apt public disposition when a government finds itself in a bind with multi-lateral institutions such as the GATT-WTO, IMF-WB and other agreements with other nations that heighten geopolitical disparities (VFA, JPEPA, MLSA). Clearly, how people feel about poverty in this country is pretty much aided by a transmission function that blurs state policies yet highlights their adverse consequences to the most vulnerable sectors in society. This situation leads to a very low public opinion of the poor for they can only be seen and understood in the light of their hardships and rarely in the context of political and economic policies that bear material effects on their life choices and everyday dispositions.

To act as a main conduit in facilitating public and private partnerships- This position stems from the idea that government can only function properly in dynamic tandem with business since the former tends to be corrupt and congested by bureaucratic procedures while the latter wields and yields profits. This kind of market-worship submits people’s life chances to the (un)predictability of business. Corporations and their “rational” ways are supposed to rule the day. This happens without having to ask why the most powerful State bailed out Wall Street from utter destruction instead of spending for social welfare at a time when it was most needed by the people. How can people continue to believe in something that does not work is a question that proves the fact that neoliberalism is not just a set of economic policies based on the economic theory of free trade. It doubles up as a social discipline that makes up an ideological formation based on imaginary projections of free trade. We are told that government is in need of corporate tie-ups to ensure the common good.

Yet in the case of deregulation—an indispensable tenet of neoliberalism—we can see clearly how the principle of automatic price adjustments enable oil cartels like the Big Three to hoard massive profits thereby strengthening nothing but the already existent and havoc-wreaking industrial oil cartel. This shows that big corporations actually need governments to recode the logic of profit accumulation as legitimate state policies. Public and private partnerships, popularized as PPP’s by the Aquino regime, are partnerships forged within the arena of the raging class struggle. PPPs are overt displays of government’s preferential option for big business. The PPP of Noynoy Aquino reveals that this president is no fence-sitter. It also exposes a mode of enjoining the people to a social practice that is based on enjoying neoliberalism through the enjoyment of changing the nation at the cost of social solidarity.

Destruction of social solidarity through State roll out

As an ideological formation, neoliberalism generates social fragmentation resulting from economic and ideological logics. The economic force of neoliberalism has spawned and reinforced the tenet of privatization whose consequences are not limited to State abandonment of social services. It takes in as well those situations in which private entities such as big business can impose wanton violations of civil rights and principles of national sovereignty.

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