“Workers’ basic needs are being neglected; workers’ basic rights are being violated; and workers’ dignity is being attacked.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Thousands of workers marched under the sweltering summer sun on May 1 in Manila for the 113th observance of Labor Day in the Philippines. Similar gatherings were held in other parts of the country such as Cordillera, Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog, Bicol, Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas, Panay, Southern Mindanao, Caraga, Socsargen, among others.
In the Labor Day protests, the rallyists condemned the widespread contractualization and the pressing down of wages. They called on Filipino workers to unite and fight the government policies that brought these about. They were joined by some politicians while others sent solidarity messages.
Contractualization and low wages have been top issues occupying the minds of Filipinos, according to surveys. But even those who are regular on the job and the few who remained or who managed to form a union face lower income hikes.
Under President Benigno Aquino, the number of workers with collective bargaining agreement (CBA) went down to its lowest since 1974, the year after Martial Law was declared.
Worse, there is strong indication that the few workers who still enjoy the benefit of a CBA gained less than in previous years. With the Aquino administration’s two-tier wage system, unionists said ‘performance-based’ hike or wage hikes based on the company’s declared profits have increasingly become a variable tier of wage that workers may or may not receive. The other tier, the floor wage, is the only mandatory amount.
But this amount is also reduced, as Labor Day protesters slammed the Aquino government’s decision to peg that amount to a lower, arbitrarily set “poverty threshold.” Now, they said, it is no longer pegged to the amount estimated as needed by a family to live decently, but to an amount estimated to just keep the family at the threshold of poverty.
“We don’t believe in the government’s poverty threshold of P50. Let Noynoy live on that (amount),” said Rea Alegre, spokesperson of All Workers’ Unity.
In a speech at Mendiola (Chino Roces) Bridge, she said “workers are very angry at the Aquino government. We need a meaningful hike which it continues to deny us, while the costs of living continue to increase.”
No vote for Aquino government’s ‘butchers’
In Metro Manila, Labor Day protesters met at various points at lunchtime, marched early in the afternoon to Mendiola where they gathered in a circle and despite the heat, burned an effigy of Pres. Aquino. They depicted Aquino as a butcher, saying the firing of shots against hungry farmers, the fatal labor conditions in factories and hunger-inducing wage rates are just some of the clear proofs Aquino is indeed a butcher.
They also marked the first month of the shooting and killing of protesting farmers in Kidapawan City.
“We condemn contractualization, the pressing down of wages and other neoliberal policies attacking workers and unions,” said Elmer “Ka Bong” Labog, KMU chairperson. He said that for the sake of further enlarging capitalist profits, “Workers’ basic needs are being neglected; workers’ basic rights are being violated; and workers’ dignity is being attacked.”
Politicians led by vice-presidential candidate Chiz Escudero also joined the protest at Mendiola to express their solidarity in the struggle against contractualization and other anti-worker policies. Senatorial candidates Manny Pacquiao and Leila de Lima reportedly sent supportive messages. Senatorial candidate and makabayan bet Neri Colmenares also spoke in solidarity with the workers’ struggle for national minimum wages.
“Aquino said his administration helped everyone achieve a better quality in life.
But workers are in dire straits, with many more forced to look for jobs abroad,” said Ferdie Gaite, president of Confederation of Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employee (COURAGE).
Elmer “Bong” Labog, chairman of Kilusang Mayo Uno, looked back to the history of Philippine labor movement and shared with protesters how the labor movement fiercely struggled and won strides for wages and humane working conditions at a great cost to their lives, but the neoliberal policies being implemented by succeeding governments have been taking back the workers movements’ gains.”
Labog said the Aquino government’s supposed banning of certain aspects of contractualization in DO-18-A is actually “just a cover for furthering contractualization.”
“In Noynoy Aquino’s last year it further adds more sins to the list it has racked up,” Labog said, citing the kidapawan shooting of farmers and the number of workers who died in the workplace.
Labog asked the workers to give the administration candidates Mar Roxas and running mate Leni Robredo zero votes on election day. The protests at Mendiola were concluded with a march to the US Embassy in Manila.
‘Death to Imperialism’
The first May 1 Labor Day in the Philippines in 1903 rang out with cries of “Kamatayan sa Imperyalismo!” (Death to Imperialism).
One hundred and 13 years later, they uttered the same chants as Labor Day protesters marched and struggled to hold a program in front of the US Embassy in Manila. First they had to push back rows of policemen who beat at them with their truncheons, and a firetruck which blasted the protesters with water.
The Labor Day program was then held on streets wet with firetruck’s water.
Vencer Crisostomo, chairman of Anakbayan, questioned what the police was doing there on a Sunday and a holiday, defending the American government when they were on Philippine soil, facing Filipino workers and youths.
In front of the US Embassy, leaders of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, KMU and youth groups denounced and traced to US imperialism the reasons why majority of the country’s people are poor, forced to subsist on starvation “poverty threshold” wages, militarized to prevent them from demanding genuine agrarian reform programs and humane wages.
They lashed at US imperialism for continuing to keep the Philippines as a neo-colony, and for working with its “puppets” in Malacañang in implementing neoliberal policies that brought down wages, made jobs insecure and precarious, made basic services inaccessible to many.
“I salute the members of the Kilusang Mayo Uno here in the Philippines, the members of the global working class organization, Workers International Struggle Initiatives (WORKINS) and the trade union section of the International League of Peoples Struggles in their call this May First for an anti-imperialist united front,” Malcolm Guy said during the Labor Day program in front of the US Embassy in Manila.
Guy is secretary general of International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) and a multi-awarded Canadian filmmaker.
The Philippines Chapter of the ILPS said in a statement that “While all presidential candidates have promised to stop labor contractualization and protect labor rights, they are all one in attracting more foreign investors and opening the country for greater exploitation of cheap labor and resources.”
Along with leaders of progressive people’s organizations who spoke at the protests in Mendiola and in front of US Embassy, they said whoever wins in the coming elections will face the lobby for Charter Change to allow 100 percent foreign ownership of land, resources and vital industries along with the U.S. push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Asean integration.
Jerome Adonis, secretary general of Kilusang Mayo Uno, concluded the program at the US Embassy with calls to workers and other sectors to keep organizing and raising their ability to mobilize themselves, because he warned that when a new administration starts to fire its first imperialist-dictated salvo of attacks on the people, the people has to be ready to act.