Tuesday, 26 May 2015

"The iron grills that trapped the workers to death weren’t even a metaphor for the iron law of wages that kept workers’ pay to a minimum. They were the logical conclusion of capitalist accumulation, a process that cannot take place without taking away all value that comes from labor to the point of sucking the life out of labor itself."


Infamous Blaze*: On Kentex workers and the struggle of labor 

This is no way to die. That was my initial reaction upon reading the news on a factory fire that killed 72 people who made rubber slippers for a living. This is among the worst documented fires in contemporary times in terms of casualties. In 2001, fire gutted a budget hotel killing 75 people. Much earlier, 162 people died in a big fire that gutted the Ozone disco in 1996.

Witnesses and survivors report that victims were screaming for help behind iron grills that barred them from escaping through the windows. The iron grills were installed to protect the owners of Kentext from theft. Yet the 72 workers on account of a system that reduces labor to a mere function of time had nothing to protect themselves from the theft of surplus value that capitalists practice every working day.

The iron grills that trapped the workers to death weren’t even a metaphor for the iron law of wages that kept workers’ pay to a minimum. They were the logical conclusion of capitalist accumulation, a process that cannot take place without taking away all value that comes from labor to the point of sucking the life out of labor itself.

Sites of Production
Away from Manila at the moment, I can only read as much as I can on the infamous blaze that was the Kentex fire. I realize that a sounder reaction to this monumental tragedy is in order: working for Kentex was no way live!

Kentex is located in Valenzuela City, a factory hub in northern Manila. It was once part of the province of Bulacan until commercial development along with poor urban planning and politician’s glut for business tax and state allocation took over. Valenzuela, though, is no city that fell from grace. I remember passing by factories on a daily basis on my way to school back in the 80s. But for some reason, I don’t remember seeing scores of workers entering into or coming out of those factories. But with vagueness, I do recall one of them being a production site for tabo (mini dippers). The Valenzuela of my childhood felt dry and abandoned.

Despite its status as a chartered city for the state’s vision of economic development, Valenzuela is far from that district of acceptable greed called Makati in all its posh and promise. Valenzuela City’s condos do not bear the same kind of distinction that the small boxes in Bonifacio High Street do. Wasn’t the president’s former girlfriend subtly stigmatized for living in Valenzuela town? It was the ultimate signifier for the class gap between the ex-lovers.

In other words, Valenzuela City is no place of distinction. In a culture where bourgeios standards reign, one way to understand this stigma is precisely Valenzuela’s position in Manila’s political-economic map. Production sites where workers surrender their labor to the altar of capital are not glamorous spaces.

No way to live
But this spatial dynamics is not merely cultural. We are conditioned to pay no mind whatsoever to the laboring activities of people who produce our food, gadgets, shirts, shoes, bags, and slippers. Until something scandalously tragic happens.

Now we are reminded that the first victims of poor working conditions are the workers themselves. The first victims of unemployment are the unemployed rural and urban poor. Meanwhile, the “middling classes” are usually victimized by their own middling minds. The propertied class knows exactly what to do. As owners of the means of production, it is their role to accumalate profit through the exploitation of labor.

Ironically, sites of wealth production are looked down upon and deemed unsafe by people who cultivate an unfortunate aspirational mindset. There is nothing essential about work that makes workers dangerous. But the wage system that is underpinned by the logic of profit accumulation renders workers poor and dispossessed. So poor and dispossessed that certain classes of people can actually live their whole lives distinguishing themselves from this lot. Needless to say, such disposition is a product of miseducation.

From Marx, we learn that if things were really are what they seem, then we no longer have a need for science. Our impressions and fetishes would have sufficed to understand the world and the relations that make it up. Perhaps all we knew about the brand “Havana” before the Kentex fire is that it is a cheap knock-off of the much fetishized, and therefore overpriced Brazillian brand “Havaianas.”

Meanwhile, labor organizations and labor advocates have acquired eyes for what is normally erased from the scene of consumption. The Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR), the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development IOHSAD), Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER), and Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) immediately conducted a fact-finding mission on the Kentex fire and released the first comprehensive report on the tragedy.

The report tackles how the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in September 2014 declared that Kentex complies with general labor and occupational safety standards. Likewise, the factory was reportedly given a fire safety inspection certification by the Bureau of Fire Protection.

However, the fact-finding team “found glaring violations of standards pertaining to general labor conditions and to occupational health and safety. They argue “that most likely, these violations caused the tragic and massive loss of lives in the recent fire.”

It is difficult enought to imagine the tragic death of the 72 workers. But knowing about how they lived through the terrible working conditions at Kentex is enraging.

Kentex that is owned by Mr. Beato Ang and Mr. Ong King Guan is the kind of manufacturing company that only regularizes workers after 20-25 years of service. Those who have served the company for 10 years remain casuals. Regular or casual, workers receive a minimum wage and are not part of the company union that is only made up of 30 people.

There are about 104 casual workers illegally hired by a subcontracting agency which DOLE reporteldy aims to summon for patent violation of labor laws. Their social security, health and housing contributions were never remitted by their recruitment agency. Some workers are also hired on a piece-rate basis and are required to work for 12 hours.

All these workers had a shared experience of utmost discomfort in the workplace: “[They] also complain that they have to bear the heat inside the factory during work hours as there is no proper ventilation in the factory. They claim that they get tired of work not because of the heavy workload but because of the heat inside the factory premises.”

Anonymous Victims
Lamentably, officials say that there is no way to determine the accurate number of victims just yet—at least 20 more are missing— not even their complete names are available as records were lost. Records show, however, that long before fire razed Kentex factory, none of its workers mattered, not their welfare, not their lives, much less their names.
The Aquino regime like many governments which have embraced the interest of big business have actually withdrawn from its public obligations ranging from health care, education, housing, transporation, water, energy, and other public utilities. They have done so through the neoliberal consensus that was clinched since the 1970s. It is an anti-people consensus that the ruling class in imperialist states and their allies in their client states have forged to save global capitalism from its crisis.

DOLE’s Department Order 18-A (DO 18-A),which effectively legalizes contractualization, enables the illegal subconracting of labor. This is why government officials’ statements by Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldo and Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr that pay lip service to labor rights are hypocritical, deceptive, and empty.
Until the Aquino regime lifts its contractualization policy on labor, workers who are already exploited by the wage system will remain vulnerable to all sorts abuses and labor rights violations.

Now more than ever, as Filipino workers are cheapened and brutalized by foreign investors and their local cohorts, and a government that makes new laws against labor so that politicians’ stakes in business is so high they can afford to imagine workers’ lives lesser than their own, the question remains: Socialism or death?

*borrowed from a line in the poem “Shirt” by Robert Pinsky in the collection The Want Bone (1990): “The infamous blaze/ At the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in nineteen-eleven.” This allusion is to the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in Manhattan, a sweatshop where, in 1911, a fire broke out and killed more than one hundred immigrant workers.” (http://bulatlat.com)

Sarah Raymundo is a full-time faculty at the University of the Philippines-Center for International Studies (UP-CIS Diliman) and a member of the National Executive Board of the All U.P. Academic Employees Union. She is the current National Treasurer of the Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) and the External Vice Chair of the Philppine Anti-Imperialist Studies (PAIS). She is also a member of the Editorial Board of Interface: A Journal for Social Movements.

- See more at: http://bulatlat.com/main/2015/05/21/infamous-blaze-on-kentex-workers-and-the-struggle-of-labor/#sthash.jqt8O7hZ.dpuf

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Suspected military agents send snail mail threatening leaders of a government workers’ union to “change your ways.”

Govt union leaders receive threats via mail

MANILA – On the eve of Labor Day, a government workers’ union assailed the harassment of their leaders who received letters from suspected military agents, redbaiting them as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

“This is clearly a direct threat and we have nobody but this government to blame if something bad happens to them,” said Ferdinand Gaite, national president of government workers’ union Courage.

“These military personnel did their homework, they know where the leaders live, their families, what time they arrive and leave for office and what route they take. Obviously, we have been under surveillance. If there is one thing we will admit to, it is the crime of doing organizing work for government employees’ rights and advocate genuine public service,” Gaite said in a statement.
Gaite said Rosalinda Nartates, Courage secretary general and president of the Consolidated Union of Employees of the National Housing Authority received a letter from a certain Capt. Evangelista of the Philippine Army.

Another government union leader, Manny Baclogan said identical letters were sent to both his office and home address.

Gaite cited an incident when a woman leader of Courage, whose name they withheld, was harassed by a suspected military agent who sat next to her inside a jeepney. Gaite said the agent, who introduced himself as Jay, gave a handwritten letter to the union leader, telling her to change her ways “for the country’s sake.”

Copies of the letters were furnished to the media in a press conference today, April 30.
“From someone who is also working in the government, I want you to cooperate and work together for your own good while you are still employed by the government. I hope that you will not disregard this help I am offering you as this is the most effective way for you to make amends with the government,” one of the letters read.

Another letter, signed by a certain Capt. Evangelista of the Philippine Army, stated that the “revelation” was brought to their attention by “a former colleague” of the union leaders.
“We want to give you a chance to defend yourself against the accusations by your former colleague,” the letter read.

Gaite, in a statement, deplored how the military has maliciously insinuated that the accusations came from Randy Vegas and Raul Camposano, two of their organizers who have been detained in the Bicol region for three years due to “trumped-up cases.”
Another letter warned that the places the union leaders frequent are known to the military who had also identified their families and children. In the letter the leaders were accused of neglecting their jobs because of their supposed active involvement in “revolution.”
“It is not wrong to join a movement as long as it is not through a violent revolution, which is wrong. I am a soldier who cares about you,” the letter read.

The suspected military agents wrote in the letter the cellphone numbers which the leaders could call. These are: 0906-3097399, 0932-1092849, 0999-8367212, and 0977-3931763.
One letter even warned a union leader to call them “before it is too late.”
These letters were sent to union leaders just this week. Though this is not the first time, Gaite said at the press briefing that they were alarmed.

Gaite told Bulatlat.com that such harassment is a result of their active organizing both in national and local government offices. He said their group has at least an annual 10 percent growth in their membership. They are also among progressive groups calling for decent wages for government employees and a critic of what they refer to as anti-people policies.
He said they would file a complaint before the Commission on Human Rights and would consult human rights groups and lawyers on other possible legal moves they could take, citing a recent victory when the Court of Appeals granted the protection writs of amparo and habeas data to human rights lawyer Catherine Salucon in March.

“We can explore the same track,” he told Bulatlat.com.
Gaite said such harassment is related to their participation in the May 1 rally and part of the “continuing attacks against the public sector employees, human rights defenders unionists.”
Despite the threats, Courage would be at the Labor Day rally.

“If they thought they can scare us into silence, they are badly mistaken. Our May Day rally is just a taste of what is more to come in the remaining months of President Aquino who made life miserable for the more than 1.4 million state workers,” he said.

Friday, 17 April 2015

“The death penalty is widely considered to be a disproportionate penalty for drug-related offences.”

IADL logoMANILA – The International Association of Democratic Lawyers has asked the Indonesian government to overturn its death sentence against Mary Jane Veloso, the Filipina in death row in Indonesia.

In an April 9 letter of appeal to Indonesian president Joko Widodo, IADL president Jeanne Mirer expressed grave concern “because of the numerous reported violations of Veloso’s human rights, including the right to a fair trial and due process, as guaranteed under both domestic and international law.”

Death penalty, said Mirer, “should be reserved only for the most serious cases and that no individual should be arbitrarily deprived of his or her life.”

Veloso was sentenced to death months after she was arrested back in 2010. Her family said Veloso was a victim of trafficking by no less than her godsister.

The IADL, which has a consultative status to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said they hope that the Indonesian government would consider their letter.

Mirer stressed in the letter that the “seriousness or gravity of the crime” is crucial in determining the severity of the sentence.

Article 6 of the ICCPR and the UN ECOSOC Safeguards Guaranteeing Protection of the Rights of Those Facing the Death Penalty, she added, limits imposition of death penalty to the “most serious crimes.”

The UN Human Rights Committee, for its part, has ruled that death penalty should be “an exceptional measure.”

“The death penalty is widely considered to be a disproportionate penalty for drug-related offences,” Mirer said.

She said it means that the death penalty should be reserved for only the ‘most serious crimes,’ and should not be imposed if the offender’s level of participation “was anything short of maximal.”

The international lawyers’ group, further stated in its letter that the Indonesian court should also assess a defendant’s situation as aggravating and mitigating circumstances, as covered by the principle of individualized sentencing.

The individualized sentencing, Mirer said, provides consideration for mitigating evidence for one’s case. Failure to consider such would violate one’s right to not to be “arbitrarily deprived of one’s life, to be free from inhuman and degrading punishment, to a fair trial, and to access to justice.”

Mirer said the death penalty “is final, irreversible, and engages the most fundamental of all human rights, namely, the right to life.”

“Sentencing a defendant to death by reference to the category of the offence rather than the individual circumstances of the offender is arbitrary, disproportionate and contrary to the basic norms of due process,” she said.

As in this case, Mirer said, Veloso was forced by the dire conditions in the country to seek work abroad. Her intention, she said, was not to smuggle heroin but to find a job. Veloso, too, was not given due legal services such as a duly-accredited translator and a lawyer.

Full Text: Mary Jane Veloso narrates how she ended up in death row