2008: Workers Under Attack, but Gains were Made

The year 2008 was for the most part a bad year for Filipino workers, as their rights were under attack. But there were some rays of light.


The labor center Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May 1st Movement) suffered a hard blow with the arrest of its chief legal counsel, Remigio Saladero, Jr., at his own home where he has his law office in Antipolo City last Oct. 23.

Saladero – who is also with the Pro-Labor Legal Assistance Center (PLACE) and was traveling to the city almost everyday from his home in the suburbs of Rizal, while juggling most of PLACE’s over 700 cases – had been implicated in the March 3, 2006 ambush by the New People’s Army (NPA) against the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Oriental Mindoro. He is among 72 activists from Southern Tagalog – including a polio victim and a diabetic long confined to a wheelchair – facing multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder charges in connection with the said ambush.

Besides this, Saladero is also among 27 Southern Tagalog activists facing arson charges in relation to the torching of a Globe tower in Lemery, Batangas last Aug. 2.

Saladero’s arrest is clearly part of what the non-government Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) has called the “abuse” of laws, regulations and courts to attack the rights of workers.

CTUHR documented a total of 12 unjust arrests of workers and trade unionists, involving 36 victims, from January to November 2008. Seven of these, CTUHR data further show, took place from October to November alone.

Workers press for P125 across-the-board wage increase.(Photo by Kilusang Mayo Uno)

There were also six recorded cases from January to November last year in which workers and trade unionists were slapped with criminal charges either due to their political beliefs or in connection with labor disputes. These involved 45 victims all in all.

It is not only the “legal offensives” that the labor movement had to put up with in 2008 though: it also had to face killings and attempted killings.

The labor movement lost three people last year: Gerardo Cristobal, former president of the EMI-Yazaki union in Cavite; Maximo Baranda, former chairman of the Compostela Workers Association (CWA) in Davao del Norte; and Rolando Antolihao, a worker of Global Fruits/Lapanday Food Corporation. Their deaths brought to 89 the number of workers and trade unionists killed since President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo assumed power, through a popular uprising, in 2001.

Arnold Cerdo, an organizer of the Cabuyao Workers Alliance (CAWAL) and vice president of the Sensuous Unified Labor Organization-Independent (SULO-Independent) in Cabuyao, Laguna was the victim of an attempted killing.

There were those who, while “fortunate” enough not to have been killed, were abducted and tortured. Among them is Melvin Yares, an organizer of Kahugpungan sa Kabus sa Basak (KAKABAS), an informal workers’ group in Lapu-Lapu City, Cebu. He was forced to claim to being an NPA returnee and to spread black propaganda against the party-list group Anakpawis (Toiling Masses), the urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap (Kadamay), and other organizations.

Other assaults on workers’ civil and political rights include union-busting, of which CTUHR documented 11 cases last year; attacks on picket lines (three in 2008); and violent dispersals of workers’ actions (five in 2008, involving 1,025 victims).

The attacks on workers’ civil and political rights took place against a backdrop in which their economic, social and cultural rights are also being violated.

The following table from the government’s National Wages and Productivity Commission (NWPC), which was posted on the agency’s website last Dec. 22, shows that wages have eroded by as much as more than P100 in some regions since 2000, which is used as the base year.

CTUHR, using data from the NWPC, has estimated that workers’ wages are pegged at around only 34 percent of the family living wage for a family of six – the size of the average Filipino family.

CTUHR also recorded a total of 58 cases of inhumane working conditions – a 62-percent increase from the 22 reported in 2007.

Still, not all is lost

But while 2008 for the most part was a bad year for Filipino workers, there were some rays of light. The unions of Bleustar Manufacturing, Inc. and Triumph International won their struggles for just wages and benefits, and against sexual harassment – proving that even at a time when the labor movement is confronting attacks left and right, the old formula of solid unity and organizing can bring substantial gains to the working people. (Bulatlat.com)

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