A Worker’s Life is a Life of Struggle

Every Day is Labor Day. While May 1 represents Laboracay, holiday picnics, or an extra rest day for many, labor groups and advocates commemorate the struggle for better working conditions, decent wages and salaries, and better lives for toiling workers and their families. //Photo courtesy of KMU-Cordillera

Decked in shades of red, red flags and placards held high, groups marched down Session Road, blocking the flow of traffic and pedestrians, and in the same breath, called for the stop to the jeepney/jitney phase-out. The groups also called for the implementation of the PhP750 National Minimum Wage and PhP16, 000 salary increase for the private sector, among others.

So, what is wrong here?

President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, during his campaign, promised to end contractualization when he becomes the head of the state. In an Inquirer article, he was reported to have said that ending contractualization would be one of his priority measures because it “will kill the Filipino skill.”   When he assumes power, workers around the country will be watching and hoping for the promise to become reality, for the conflict that traces its roots in industrialization to finally favor the toiling worker.

Tracing the First of May

As job-seekers trudged to the Baguio Convention Center for the May 1 jobs fair, different groups headed by the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) or May First Movement marched and held a half-day program at the Igorot Park discussing the plight of workers in the region, guided by the theme, “Labanan ang Imperyalistang Atakeng Neoliberal sa Uring Manggagawa.”

Ang araw ng paggawa ay araw ng pagkilala sa mga dakila at nagbigay at nag-alay ng buhay para maenjoy natin ang mga sapat na benepisyo, sahod at karapatan (Labor day is a day of recognition for those who braved and sacrificed their lives so we may enjoy benefits, wages, and rights),” said Ronald Taggaoa of ACT Teachers Partylist and an educator from one of the leading educational institutions in Baguio City.

Geraldine Cacho of Organisasyon dagiti Nakurapay nga Umili ti Syudad (ORNUS)  shared a brief history of the movement, saying that the May 1 Movement actually started in the United States, when in  May 1, 1884, the first workers convention declared that starting May 1, 1886, work hours will be reduced from 18 hours to eight hours a day. However, in 1886, when 300,000 workers from 100 businesses walked out to protest the slave-like conditions of the workplace, they were massacred.

She added that in the Philippines, a similar experience happened when in 1903, under US colonization, 100,000 people walked out in protest calling for “kamatayan para sa imperyalismo (death to imperialism).”

“It has been 130 years since that first May 1 massacre, yet workers continue to fight for job security and for worker’s rights,” said Cacho, noting that it has become commonplace to die at work because of accidents, and for people to fight over just one position.

Why the need to fight for better work remains   

Mike Cabangon of KMU- Cordillera shared that there is no national minimum wage because what is being implemented is the regional wage as prescribed by the Regional Tripartite Minimum Wage and Productivity Board under the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE). He added that there are 1000 levels of minimum wage under this system, and that government gave the power to raise wages to capitalist control.

Apay sabali ti buksit ti taga-Manila? Uray iti Konstitusyon ti Pilipinas, dagiti mangmangged ket addaan karbengan ti living wage, haan nga minimum wage. Ngem itatta,nagbalin nga libing wage, makapatay nga sweldo, haan nga makabiag (Does people in Manila have a different stomach? Even in the Constitution, workers have a right to living wage, not minimum wage. But it has become “burial” wage, wage that kills),” said Cabangon.

He added that the Modernization Program threatens the livelihood of those in the transport sector since the phase out of jitneys may be voluntary for this year but it will be mandatory by 2017.

Meanwhile, Taggaoa shared that labor contractualization among teachers, which used to be prohibited, is now the normal practice among educational institutions. He said that there are teachers who have worked for 10 years in an institution but they are still categorized as contractual, which prevents them from availing of benefits enjoyed by regular employees.

He added that the K12 program exacerbates the situation of teachers, with thousands of teachers in danger of losing their source of income.

“The government promised support to those who will be retrenched. They said they will provide scholarships. My colleagues applied for these but out of 50 applicants, only five were given scholarships,” said Taggaoa.

He added that with the K12 program, the thrust of education is “not to teach the youth to be critical, to have an intelligent understanding of social issues, and to help bring about change in society; rather, the direction is to turn the youth into ‘katulong’ (house help) so we can be ‘globally competitive.’

The fight continues

“We do not live to work. We were not born into this world so that we will use all our time working just to eke out a meal each day. We are living so we can give importance to our humanity,” said Taggaoa, adding that living otherwise is a violation of human rights and dignity.

He added that the benefits during national holidays, free health care in public hospitals are the fruits of the courage and determination of workers to shout and fight for benefits and labor rights, and that May 1 is a history of struggle.

Further, Cacho said that we cannot pin our hopes on any one person to solve our problems, and that the people should actively work for the respect of labor and human rights because it is the only inheritance we can give to our children.

Meanwhile, Tracy Dumalo of Tongtongan ti Umili (TTU) said that we should remain vigilant in ensuring that elected officials will fulfill what they promised. She cited the case of President Aquino, who promised that rights violators will face justice, that education will be accessible, and that salary/wage will increase. But after six years in service, these promises have yet to be fulfilled.

“We should not content ourselves in promises made by politicians. It is only through collective action that we can change the system of society, that we can achieve the future that we want,” ended Dumalo. // Bernice Lee

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