On Labor Day, in the second year of the pandemic, Gantala Press stands in solidarity with millions of Filipino people suffering from joblessness, extreme hunger, and lack of access to public health.
More than a year since the pandemic birthed the “new normal,” we continue to endure the botched administration of the Duterte regime. In the early months of the lockdown, a whopping 10 million Filipinos lost their jobs. Seventy percent of the workforce are women, and during the pandemic they are forced to carry out additional work while also being more vulnerable to domestic and other forms of violence.
The continued disruption and loss of many lives and livelihoods in this crisis is unprecedented. The hardest hit by the pandemic are the very backbone of society: the peasants and workers who are forced to produce goods in the worst conditions. In 2021, there are 4.2 million jobless Filipinos and 7.9 million underemployed workers. Farmers and workers have already struggled under exploitative conditions long before COVID-19, but their lives worsen every day that the government pursues its criminal negligence.
Even “rank and file” employees lose their jobs after no longer being considered vital parts of a company’s skeletal system. The “no work, no pay” scheme forces breadwinners to go to work at extremely high risks. The informal sector has it worst. Jeepney drivers are pushed towards beggary; jeepneys were phased out but no mechanism was created to absorb the labor force of disenfranchised drivers.
Meanwhile in the agriculture sector, farmers helplessly watch their harvests rot because local governments fail to ensure that their crops can reach consumers. Instead of finding ways to sell farmers’ produce, especially in times of starvation like now, the government merely imposes lockdown measures. Only the big agricultural companies are left with the means to sell in the market. They are able to monopolize the market and dictate the rise of prices of basic goods.
This is how the Philippine labor force looks like in the pandemic: destitute, desperate, deathly. Our workers are left to wait on the promise of a small subsidy, and they remain waiting.
Gantala Press joins the calls for a national minimum wage of Php 750, Php 100 daily wage subsidy for workers, Php 10,000 cash aid for the poor and the jobless, and Php 15,000 production subsidy for farmers and fisherfolk. We call for the government to devise mechanisms to allow our labor force to work, to provide for our families and contribute to society.
We call to prioritize the health and safety of our workers, especially our medical and food security frontliners. We call for free, accessible, timely mass testing and contact tracing in workplaces for all workers. Despite early calls for free mass testing and a medicalized response, the government assigned the military to manage the emergency, an act that has only resulted in human rights violations especially against vulnerable sectors including women. This militarized response has done nothing to curb the daily surge of infections that mount to this day.
The struggle of the working class has always been built on solidarity. During the Industrial Revolution, women and men workers around the world went on strike against exploitation, violence, and injustice. Since the 1900s, Filipino workers have been marching the streets to assert their rights. The spirit of unionizing persists, despite the “anti-communist” red-tagging of and crackdown on labor organizers and activists.
Peasants, the urban poor, and the middle class have, time and again, joined the struggle of the working class. Today, solidarity emerges through the community pantries all over the country, with many of the contributors being farmers and fisherfolk, themselves having very little for their own families. Again, it is the people who bear the brunt of the Duterte regime’s colossal failure. Workers of the nation, unite; we have nothing to lose but this sorry excuse of a government, led by a macho-fascist, incompetent president.