The run-up to this year’s May 2007 elections threatens to foreshadow this year’s May Day for workers. But this should not be so.
For one, May 1 is an international event. An international gathering of workers in Paris on July 14, 1889 decided to declare May 1, 1890 as an international day of protest by workers for an eight-hour workday.
But that was not the first May Day protest action. The first May Day strike was staged by workers in Chicago to fight for an eight-hour workday. As an offshoot, the workers held another protest action at Haymarket Square on May 4 or the day after Chicago police brutally attacked striking workers of McCormick Reaper Works where six workers were killed and many wounded. The protest action was peaceful and was about to be concluded when the police again attacked the assembled workers. A bomb was thrown into the crowd and a police sergeant was killed. A battle ensued resulting in the death of seven policemen and four workers. Four labor leaders were charged with the bombing and were subsequently hanged even if there was no evidence linking them to the bomber. More workers were imprisoned.
From 1890 onwards, the May Day protest action of workers took on a political character with issues such as universal suffrage, freedom of assembly, colonial and neo-colonial oppression, freedom for political prisoners, government repression, wars of aggression, and recently globalization being raised. May Day has also been an occasion to call for and demonstrate workers’ solidarity.
Second, the May elections should supposedly address the plight of Filipino workers. But senatorial candidates seem to be silent on issues affecting workers. What is their position regarding the just demand of workers for a legislated wage increase? If elected, what will they do to protect job security and put a stop to the practice of hiring workers as “contractuals,” or under labor-only contracting, and sub-contracting? Will they work for the repeal of anti-labor laws such as the assumption of jurisdiction of strikes by the Department of Labor, the Herrera Law which extended the period of collective bargaining agreements from three to five years, among others?
Third, the issues being raised by workers during the latter part of the 19th century such as the long working hours, attacks on the right of workers to unionize and strike, poor working conditions, and slave wages are very much relevant today as it was before, especially to workers of backward countries such as the Philippines.
Elections have been held regularly in the country since 1946, except during Martial Law. Different presidents, senators, representatives, and local officials had been elected and had assumed office. But the conditions of Filipino workers have only worsened. In fact, millions of workers and professionals alike had been forced to leave the country to seek gainful employment abroad. Workers, farmers, and low-paid professionals constitute the majority of the population of the country. If their conditions continue to turn for the worse year after year, the cause for celebrating May Day will continue to be to fight for workers’ rights and for a greater solidarity and empowerment of the toiling masses. Bulatlat