By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – The Filipino working class thundered in the streets by the tens of thousands yesterday, May 1, as they demand the “social justice package” from President Duterte on the first Labor Day under his administration.
In Metro Manila, demonstrators led by Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) were 35,000-strong, as unionized employees were joined by contractuals from the manufacturing, service and BPO, government employees, as well as farm workers from Mindanao, former OFWs and families of migrant workers, and throngs of urban poor from communities, mainly those who successfully occupied government housing units in Pandi, Bulacan.
It was a show of force by the uring anakpawis, the working class who collectively demand better wages, job security, free land distribution, free mass housing and social services – the complete social justice package, which KMU says is a prerequisite for a Filipino family’s decent living.
But beyond economic demands, the demonstrators also cried, “Workers of the world unite,” as they touted their vision of a new world, free from exploitative and repressive classes. Filipino progressives are set to celebrate this coming November the 100th year of the Russian revolution led by Vladimir Lenin, which established a dictatorship of the proletariat, the first socialist state.
In other parts of the country, KMU said, some 80,000 people joined the progressive-led Labor Day rallies, bringing the nationwide turnout to around 115,000 people.
The Labor Day rally turnout is a record-high, compared to past years, with a bulk of this year’s Manila demonstrators coming from the urban poor organized by the Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay). Protesters from Bulacan province were already in the capital on April 29, when they held a Konsultahang Bayan (People’s Consultation) and spent the night in Quezon City on April 30 before heading off to the main demonstration, marching from Welcome Rotonda to Manila city.
Meanwhile, the NCR contingent gathered in Quirino Avenue in the morning and proceeded in a protest at the US embassy along Roxas Boulevard before joining the main body at Liwasang Bonifacio. The rallyists later marched to Mendiola Bridge near the Presidential Palace.
Raise wages, end contractualization
KMU demands a national minimum wage at P750 ($15) for the private sector, and a P16,000 ($319) minimum monthly salary for government employees. At present, the daily minimum wage in Metro Manila is at P481 ($9.60), but is much lower outside the capital region, ranging from P235 to P335 ($4.70 to $6.70). The suggested Family Living Wage by Ibon Foundation is at P1,119 ($22).
Various groups supported the P750 wage demand and the call to regularize contractual workers. If these were only the norm, Filipinos will no longer seek work abroad, they said.
“Data from Ibon Foundation showed that such an amount would only be a 30 percent decrease in the gross profit of the top 1,000 corporations in the country. Small and medium enterprises have also claimed that workers’ wages only comprise 10 percent of their total production costs, as they spend higher on high electricity rates, land rentals and exorbitant taxes,” KMU said in a statement.
The progressives attributed the prevalence of low wages and contractualization as part of neoliberal policies, big business’ modus operandi in collusion with governments to squeeze bigger profits from labor, worsening the crisis of overproduction. Capitalists’ profits come at the expense of labor, who are continually at risk in workplaces, as shown in in worsening factory accidents.
“We continue to struggle, because we don’t want a repeat of what happened in Kentex…but again it struck in Epza,” said Abet Rada, leader of the Justice for Kentex Workers Association, as he referred to the fire which hit HTI in the Cavite Export Processing Zone. “Up to now, there is still no justice,” he said.
Big business had not only dominated industries, but has been raking in profits in social services, including transportation. “Papatindi nang papatindi (It has gotten more severe),” said Piston’s George San Mateo as he described the entry of big business into social services, including transportation. He warned of how government’s so-called “modernization of public transportation” will lead to the situation in the MRT. “Nagtaas ng singil, pero maya’t maya, sira (The fare increased, but the trains kept conking out).”
Piston recently staged a successful transport strike to protest government’s phase-out of old, diesel-fueled public utility jeepneys, and San Mateo said another one is in the offing, in which Piston will unite a broad range of transport workers.
Farm workers led by the Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma) were also there, coming from a successful occupation campaign in Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac province. Uma secretary general Danilo Ramos stressed the call for free distribution of land, since many agricultural estates have been paid for by decades of toil by peasants. He said more bungkalan — the land occupation and cultivation campaign — will be launched nationwide, to press for free land distribution.
Among those at the rally were 200 farm workers who are members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Association Inc. (Marbai) who had been kept out of their land by the Lapanday Food Corporation in Tagum city, Davao del Norte. They camped out in Mendiola bridge after the rally.
Aside from the usual labor groups in May Day rallies, younger organizations joined the assembly, such as Kilos na Manggagawa, a newly-formed group of the semi-proletariat: contractual and non-regular workers, both from factories and communities. There was also the Liga ng Manggagawang Kontraktwal (LMK), Kababaihan Laban sa Kontraktwalisasyon (KLK), community-based workers groups, such as the Marikina East Labor Association (Mela), and the Malayang Alyansa ng Bus Drivers at Laborers para sa Karapatan sa Paggawa (Manibela).
Learning the lessons of history
At the main program held in Liwasang Bonifacio, KMU chairperson Elmer Labog looked back in history as the world celebrates the 131st Labor Day, which commemorates the protest by American workers. On May 1, 1886, thousands of workers protested in Hay Market Square in Chicago, Illinois, demanding an eight-hour work day. The tide of protests continued in the succeeding days, and were met by police violence, which killed two people. On May 4, a bomb thrown amidst the demonstration killed seven police, three demonstrators and wounded scores of others. Seven worker-leaders were arrested, tried and sentenced to death in a grossly unfair trial. Only four were hanged in the Cook County jail, while one committed suicide.
In 1889, the Second International led by Lenin declared May 1 as International Workers’ Day, and has since been commemorated in various countries, except in the US and Canada, which celebrates Labor Day on the first Sunday of September.
In the Philippines, the first Labor Day rally was during the American occupation, on May 1, 1903, and led by Union Obrero Democratica de Filipinas (Uod).
“If not for those May 1 protests, workers will still be working longer than eight hours a day,” Labog said, adding that many service workers still work longer, such as security guards, who work up to 14-hours shifts, but only get paid for eight hours.
Patriotic government officials join Labor Day rally
Officials of the Duterte Cabinet were also at Liwasang Bonifacio, such as Social Welfare Secretary Judy Taguiwalo and Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, who both spoke at the rally, and Environment Secretary Gina Lopez who addressed the crowd through a phone patch.
Unionized government employees of the above departments also joined their colleagues in the Confederation for Unity, Recognition and Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) from various other government agencies.
Taguiwalo, who was a former leader of the militant All-UP Workers Union and Alliance of Concerned Teachers, said she supports the struggle of contractual workers for regularization. In her own department, she said only 3,000 out of the 30,000 employees are regular, while the rest are under memorandum of agreement or job orders.
For his part, in the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), Mariano signed in March the sixth collective negotiation agreement (CNA) with the DAR Employees’ Association (Darea), which created a consultative committee of the DAR management and union.
A new world order is possible
From Liwasang Bonifacio to Mendiola, cries of “Death to imperialism” reverberated, and calls for revolution came from speakers on stage, who invoke the victories of the 1917 Russian revolution.
“Revolution is the answer to poverty,” said Vencer Crisostomo, Anakbayan chairperson, speaking at Mendiola. He said modern-day activists still bear the courage of revolutionary heroes, as they carry the same declaration that a new world is possible, through the triumph of the national democratic revolution leading to socialist revolution.
“The workers’ victory against imperialism is not just a pipe dream. It is real and it happened in the history of the world,” said
Renato Reyes Jr., secretary general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan).
Reyes said the societies established thru the victories of the Russian revolution and the Chinese revolution showed how workers and peasants can hold the power of the state and the means of production and use these for the benefit of the people and advancement of the country.
“This is no other than socialism – the system in which the economy is focused on the needs of the people, who work, not to be exploited, but to answer their own needs and that of the nation,” Reyes said.
Reyes lamented how the gains of the socialist revolutions carried out by Soviet and Chinese people were squandered by revisionists, who eventually led their countries back to the old, exploitative system.
At Mendiola, the marchers ended the day with the singing of a slightly revised Tagalog version of “The Internationale,” the international proletariat’s anthem.