P.S. to Labor Day

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Friday, May 2, 2014


I REMEMBER thinking about this a few years ago.

It was the first time I visited a plush hotel in Barangay Lahug, Cebu City for news coverage. I recalled being awed by what I saw. The lobby was intimidating because of its size and design and its expensive decor. I was initially prompted to praise the hotel owner for it but realized doing so was unfair.

The hotel, like every structure everywhere, was designed and built by architects and construction workers. Its operation depended heavily on its staff and maintenance crew. The owners had the money to spend to construct and run the hotel, true, but it is from the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary employees and workers that profits from its operation could be had.

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Blame that thinking on my past obsession with political economy, a branch of science that, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, studies the relationship between individuals and society and between markets and the state. I used to bring around a copy of the book, “Political Economy” by John Eaton for the duration of that “obsession.”

I do not pretend to know more about political economy, though. Frankly, the excitement of discovering a viewpoint different from the common and the accepted eventually led to boredom when the discussion got deeper. But the analysis of the capitalist setup, especially on the role of labor in the acquisition of profits (surplus value) stuck in my mind.

The idea that labor alone creates surplus value is a controversial one because it puts the workers and not the capitalists up the pedestal. It is also radical because it does not conform to the common notion regarding employer-employee/worker relations.

But it should be an eye-opener especially for those lobbying for the common good.

There was a time when the celebration of Labor Day extolled the importance of the working class in society. That is no longer happening especially in the Philippines where Labor Day is being celebrated every May 1 of the year. Instead, the day becomes like an occasion for beggars to ask for food from the rich and getting only crumbs.

Instead of being viewed as important cogs of the economy, the workers are instead seen as potential destroyers of economic growth. The message is always that workers should not rock the boat, sort of, by demanding for higher pay and better working condition.

Their contribution to the economy is largely ignored or forgotten.

Consider what is happening at the Regional Tripartite Wages and Productivity Board (RTWPB) 7. Instead of approving a wage hike, employers in tandem with concerned government agencies only went for a P13 cost of living allowance. RTWPB 7 has a history of denying workers’ demands for wage hikes, or if it does grant such hikes they are minuscule.

I agree with the assessment of Partido ng Mangagawa (PM) national chairman Renato Magtubo of the administration of President Noynoy Aquino. He noted that for the last four Labor Day commemorations under the Aquino administration, workers have received “nothing or zero” from PNoy. He pointed out correctly that without a labor legacy, “matuwid na daan” is a meaningless journey for the Filipino working class.

But this situation should also be blamed on labor leaders for their failure to unite and effectively push for their legitimate demands. Had they strengthened their union, they would not look like beggars asking for crumbs but people to be listened to because of the power they wield.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on May 03, 2014.

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