Wenceslao: Labor

Candid thoughts

ANOTHER May 1 passes and Labor Day is again an after-thought. This is because the strength of labor unionism in this country or elsewhere in the globe is in a mess. Even the attempt to radicalize the labor sector via communism is on the retreat. Communists that won the struggle in their countries, like China, are now essentially capitalists, even monopoly capitalists.

“Workers of the world, unite!” was the call made by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels that resonated globally for a time. The defense of workers rights became noticeable for a while, but unity is hard to come by in almost all human endeavors. And without unity, workers will always be at the mercy of capital, or the employers.

There was a time when the labor sector’s strength could not be ignored by governments in the country. Ironically, labor was strongest at a time when its rights were mostly suppressed, during the dictatorship of the late Ferdinand Marcos. Demands by the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and the moderate labor center Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) resonated nationwide.

These days, both the KMU and the TUCP are but shadows of their former selves. Other labor unions that cropped up could not also fly organizationally. The result is that labor’s demands, including hikes in the minimum wage, are laughed off by the government and the employers.

This is unfortunate considering that technological advance has posed major challenges to the sector now and in the future. With organized labor--the spearhead of the pursuit of the workers’ interest--weak, government and employers can ride roughshod over their rights with nary a fear or worry, unlike before.

In the coming elections, candidates are not even wooing the votes of the labor sector, probably thinking these have become non-existent. In the past, even the dictatorship wooed a faction of organized labor, TUCP, to weaken the influence of the militant KMU. Everytime Labor Day is celebrated, government always come up with a package of benefits, no matter how minimal, to appease the sector.

Now the demand, say, for a legislated hike in minimum wage has become a mere joke after years of repetition. Even the government’s favored mode of addressing the workers’ anemic wages, the tripartite wage councils, has also become a mere joke. Proof that those wage boards have become inutile is the demand for a legislated wage hike, bypassing them in favor of Congress.

Sadly, low wages are not the only problem for the sector. There’s the bigger one related to employment. The Duterte’s preference for Chinese loans has resulted in Chinese workers easing out Filipino laborers in the so-called “Build, Build, Build Program.” Then there’s the looming threat of artificial intelligence and automation replacing the work done by humans.

Yet I still have to hear organized labor in the country tackle these issues during Labor Day. Limiting the discussion to wage hikes is wrong. The bigger worry is unemployment. Yet the silence of organized labor on this is noticeable.


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