Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. VI, No. 12      April 30 - May 6, 2006      Quezon City, Philippines











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May 1st, a History of Struggle

Historically, May 1 or Labor Day is commemorated through a mass demonstration of workers to fight for their rights. And given the conditions of Filipino workers today, the commemoration of May 1 this year is no different.


Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye called on the organizers of May 1 rallies to “respect the day meant for workers.”  He said it is not for “rabble-rousers and lawless elements” to desecrate and destroy the May day commemoration “as part of their orchestrated efforts to bring down the government.” This statement clearly betrays the ignorance of Bunye and the Arroyo government, of which he is the mouthpiece, on the history of Labor Day. It also makes one wonder what the Arroyo government means by respect for workers.

An illustration of the May, 1886 Haymarket Square demonstration of workers in Chicago

Internationally, workers’ movements trace the history of May 1 to the struggle of American workers for an eight-hour workday. Workers led by the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada declared that starting May 1, 1886 a working day should be reduced to eight hours from the current practice of ten, twelve, fourteen hours a day. Chicago was the center of the struggle. But on May 3, 1886, police fired at a crowd of strikers at the McCormick Harvester Machine Company, killing at least one striker, seriously wounding five or six others, and injuring an undetermined number. Workers met the next day at Haymarket Square. As the workers were about to end their program, Chicago police moved in to disperse the crowd.  A bomb was mysteriously lobbed at the police killing one instantly. This was used as an excuse to crackdown on the anarchist and labor movement.  Police ransacked the homes and offices of suspected radicals, and hundreds were arrested without charges. A reign of police terror swept over Chicago. Staging “raids” in the working-class districts, the police rounded up all known anarchists and other socialists. “Make the raids first and look up the law afterward!” publicly counselled the state's attorney.

Anarchists in particular were harassed, and eight of Chicago’s most active were charged and convicted with conspiracy to commit murder although there was no evidence linking them to the bombing. They were later hanged.

In the Philippines, the first labor day was celebrated on May 1, 1903 by a demonstration of 100,000 workers led by the Union Obrera Democratica de Filipinas (UODF or Democratic Labor Union of the Philippines).  The demonstration was held in front of Malacañang with the workers shouting “Down with U.S. Imperialism.” Within the same month, the home of UODF president Dr. Dominador Gomez and the printing press where the UODF organ was printed were simultaneously raided.  Gomez was charged with sedition and illegal association.

Historically, May 1 or Labor Day is commemorated through a mass demonstration of workers to fight for their rights. And given the conditions of Filipino workers today, the commemoration of  May 1 this year is no different.

With a record of 10.9 million Filipinos, or a third of the labor force, either jobless or underemployed in 2005, the Arroyo government earned the dubious distinction of having the worst sustained joblessness rate of any administration in the country’s history. It generated a mere 98,000 jobs for salary and wage workers in 2005.  For every five workers one is a casual, contractual or part-timer worker. This excludes other forms of contractual labor arrangements such as subcontracting, agency-hiring, job-out, home work and other schemes that deny workers their security of tenure.

The nominal wage for workers in the National Capital Region (NCR) is pegged at P325 ($6.28 at $1:P51.78) per day while inflation has jacked up the daily cost of living for a family of six to P650.17 ($12.56).  Prices or basic goods and services continue to increase with the Restructured Value Added Tax (R-VAT) and oil price hikes. 

Hard-earned trade union rights are being attacked with government-supported practices of contractualization and union busting, the denial of the right to strike by issuance of assumption of jurisdiction orders, and the violent dispersal of picket lines and the practice of charging union leaders and striking workers with criminal offences. The representative of workers in Congress, Crispin Beltran, is currently in detention and charged with rebellion. 

All other rights gained by workers and the Filipino people in the struggle against Martial Law are being threatened by moves of the Arroyo government to amend the 1987 Constitution.  This is being done to kowtow to the economic and political interests of foreign monopoly capitalists especially that of U.S. corporations and the Bush administration; and  to further burden the Filipino people with the perpetuation of the Arroyo government.

More and more, the Arroyo government is moving towards authoritarian rule and is reacting to mass demonstrations in a manner consistent with how the U.S. government and Chicago police reacted in 1886 and how the U.S. colonial government tried to suppress the Filipino workers’ movement in 1903. 

Filipino workers survived the U.S. colonial government and the attempts of subsequent administrations to suppress workers’ rights. They, together with all patriotic and democratic classes and sectors in Philippine society, were able to bring down the Marcos fascist dictatorship. Filipino workers have had setbacks but have always emerged stronger afterwards. That is why the Arroyo government is doing everything to destroy their unity and organization. Bulatlat     



© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Publications

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