MANILA – Labor Day was a sweltering hot Friday, and the crowd at Liwasang Bonifacio were jam-packed under blue canvass tents, umbrellas, and shades under the trees, wiping their sweat, fanning themselves and trying, in vain, to cool down. It was crazy to be out in the scorching sun at 1 pm.
“It’s like hell,” Manny Baclagon of Courage, said, but he referred, not to the summer heat, but the situation of workers under the Aquino administration. He criticized the low wages that can barely put food on the table, job insecurity due to contractualization of public and private sector employees, the suppression of collective negotiating agreements, and most recently, the “love letters” – the threatening mail against the union leaders.
The heat was not so oppressive compared to the Aquino government policies, said the protesters, their flags, banners and shirts were of Kilusang Mayo Uno’s shade of flaming red, and their speeches as fiery.
“Let us not be slaves,” was the cry for the day, a call not just to individuals to fight for their rights, but to a nation under the shadow of another more powerful one.
The May Day protesters were a motley crowd: employed union workers, whose dwindling ranks continued to be attacked by big businesses; the jobless urban poor, who get by from day to day only by “diskarte” (resourcefulness); the OFWs who came home, unable to finish their contract, to escape abuse; the contractual workers who make do with inhumane wages in the hope of getting a slot as regular employee; and the youth, who are next in line to be any of the above.
The protesters decried how the Aquino government continues policies which prefer to export labor, rather than create jobs at home, then neglects those who fall into trouble abroad, as highlighted by Mary Jane Veloso’s plight.
They lambasted how government flaunts the BPO industry as a major source of local employment, uncaring that such jobs only make robots out of college graduates, who — instead of honing their talent to help industry, or develop science and technology– only end up as customer service slaves of big business companies, perpetually on the phones with a cheery “Thank you for calling, how may we help you today?”
“This government is worse than a stinky fish,” said France Castro of Act Teachers’ partylist, referring to a policy that shows no love for the Filipino language, and abolishes Filipino as mandatory subject in college, as part of its K to 12 program. It is consistent with turning the education system into a factory that churns out cheap, mindless, worse – soulless, manual labor, she said.
Musikang Bayan gave tribute to the martyrs of the working class, in their song “Di pangkaraniwan” (Extraordinary) and as its melody streamed in, it seemed like another day at the park, as children dipped their feet in the fountain, and the occasional breeze lifted the red flags, and people’s spirits.
As the sun goes down, the protesters marched to Mendiola, where they burned Aquino’s effigy. They greeted the Veloso family with cheers. Celia Veloso expressed profuse gratitude for the marchers, many of who held vigil at the Indonesian embassy in Makati two days ago.
“We will not get tired of thanking you,” said Maritess Veloso-Laurente, Mary Jane’s sister. “And we will not stop fighting for justice for Mary Jane.”
“Kami rin,” (Neither will we) the protesters answered back.
Whether it’s Mary Jane, other distressed compatriots who seek justice here or abroad, they will not get tired of protesting, until they achieve dreams of jobs with just wages through genuine agrarian reform and national industrialization.
It is when the working class – as Ericson Acosta sings in “Palad”– united like one clenched fist, “will strike with its wrath, as the wings in their dreams.”