“Mamasapano is just the tipping point for many workers. We want Aquino removed for pressing down wages, promoting contractual employment, violating workers’ rights to form unions and hold strikes, and other crimes.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Labor groups from various affiliations looked to the present and back to their collective history and agreed to form April 14 a new alliance which they christened as “Sigaw ng Obrero: Resign Aquino Now!” or, Sobra Na!
In a press conference cum workers’ tribunal at the historic Iglesia Filipina Independiente church along Taft Avenue in Manila, they announced the new alliance and their vows to hold protests to press for the resignation of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, an “anti-worker” president.
The alliance is composed of labor groups Kilusang Mayo Uno, Federation of Free Workers, National Labor Union, Philippine Association of Labor Unions, Alliance of Filipino Workers, and Young Christian Workers. Back in the 80s, these labor groups were considered as occupying differing positions from the left to right spectrum where left is supposedly radical or uncompromising or communist-influenced, right is downright state- or capitalist-collaborator, and the center is a variable mix or supposedly “free” of the two opposite tendencies.
Now battling lower wages, trade union repression, joblessness and labor contractualization, these labor groups decided to unite and try to exact accountability to their depressed conditions from the country’s president himself.
“Mamasapano is just the tipping point for many workers. We want Aquino removed for pressing down wages, promoting contractual employment, violating workers’ rights to form unions and hold strikes, and other crimes,” said Jerome Adonis, KMU campaign officer and Sobra na! spokesman.
Meanwhile, the labor group regarded as “moderate” or rightist, the government-backed Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, is announcing in another statement, the existence of another labor group called “Nagkaisa” which will eat breakfast with the president as part of its May 1 Labor Day activities.
Sobra na! is apparently not about to have that. The group’s unity statement blames Aquino’s “subservience to an elite few as detrimental to many Filipinos.”
“Mamasapano is just the most dramatic illustration of how he was not really referring to the Filipino workers and people when he declared ‘Kayo ang boss ko’ (You are my bosses) in his inaugural address,” the Sobra Na! alliance said in its unity statement.
As alternative to Aquino’s leadership, the group is calling for the creation of a transition council composed of representatives of groups working for Aquino’s resignation.
Cries of enough, then and now
Erol Alonzo, 32, chairman of YCW and spokesperson of Sobra Na!, traces the involvement of YCW in the new alliance to their being part of ACT2Win, or Action Against Contractualization and Towards Significant Wage Increase Now, which also counts FFW and KMU as some of the members.
YCW has members from five regions of the Philippines youth workers, contractuals, informal workers such as pedicab drivers, hacienda workers, miners, and out-of-school youth. Under Aquino, these groups suffer so much because of the price hikes as a result of Aquino’s pursuit of privatization and PPPs, flawed economic policies that hardly create decent jobs, cheap labor policy and rampant contractualization, that’s why, Alonzo said, they also join Sobra Na!.
Alonzo himself had been a working student. After graduating, he experienced the low-paying precarious work that is the lot of the country’s youth. Working for a salt producing company until two years ago, he had been shuttled to and from General Santos, Zamboanga, Batangas, Bicol, tracking the sacks of salt churned out by their company’s machines and hauled by its workers to the trucks for delivery.
The youth workers there, he said, were paid under a piece-rate system, or by how many sacks of salt they have milled with the machine. They earn on average P100 to P150 per working day of at least eight hours; a P200 ($4.5) day’s earning was considered lucky. These, when the lowest non-plantation minimum wage rate based on government data was P213 ($4.8) in Region 1; the highest is P466 ($10.5) in the National Capital Region.
All the labor groups comprising Sobra Na! cited examples of low wages, long workdays, battles against contractualization and retrenchments and other threats to job security and union rights.
In having formed their group and named it as such, the “Sigaw ng Obrero: Resign Aquino Now!” the alliance said it is paying tribute to the workers of La Tondeña, who held one of the first strikes against the Marcos dictatoship 40 years ago, shouting “Tama na! Sobra na! Welga na!”
The new workers’ alliance recalled that these calls were transformed into the rallying call for the dictatorship’s ouster.That they gathered together for the first time and announced their unity at the IFI was also in itself another tribute of sort.
The IFI was formed by nationalists Isabelo delos Reyes and Gregorio Aglipay, two religious men who had participated in the first protest movements against the Spanish colonizers and then against the invading Americans at the turn of the century.
De los Reyes founded the first modern trade union center in the Philippines in 1902, the Union Obrera Democratica (UOD), which led the first Labor Day rally in Manila on May 1, 1903 with resounding cries of “Death to Imperialism!” At the time, Filipinos were said to be not yet “miseducated” or recipients of colonial education. Filipinos were at the time revolutionaries or victims of families massacred, hamletted, or threatened by US troops in the Fil-Am war.