Today is Labor Day. It is the day workers the world over glorify their tradition of revolutionary struggle while being themselves glorified as the one single impetus for achieving qualitative social change. Qualitative, because change from oppression and exploitation to social equity and genuine justice.
In the estimate of great proletarian advocates – Mao Tse Tung calls them servants of the working class – like Frederick Engels, Karl Marx and Ivan Vladimir Lenin, the workers are the vanguard class. Because of their complete dispossession of material wealth, the workers alone are imbued with such degree of selflessness that it enables them to banner a social system in which man’s exploitation by his fellowman can no longer exist, social classes forever abolished, and among humanity pervades a genuine fraternal concern for one another.
Utopia. Socialism. Communism. Call it what you may, the essence stays the same. It is the only social system man may aspire for or otherwise drop to perdition.
In the last presidential debate at the University of Pangasinan, the conductors of the event saw to it to make graphic illustrations of some of the most pressing problems the next President will have to address.
For instance, a worker who can’t find permanent employment because of the “labor-only-contracting” system followed by many major business companies. By this system, employees are hired not by the companies themselves but by labor-contracting agencies. This way, the companies are spared from labor disputes because in the event employees seek redress of grievances, they cannot direct their actions against the companies, which actually are not their employees. This system effectively circumvents the industrial peace act, which provides for the right of workers to strike. The system – in certain other respect derisively called “ENDO,” a contraction of “end of contract” – summarily denies workers their only potent weapon against oppressive and exploitative capitalists.
Binay walked up to the problematic worker and, citing his expertise at labor laws earned through years of practice as a labor lawyer, explained that “labor-only-contracting” is incongruous with the magna carta of labor. He said that system of employment must go.
Of the five main presidential candidates, only Binay is attuned to the needs of workers. His knowledge of proletarian struggle is not bookish but hands-on. During his stint as pro bono labor counsel of our union, Katipunan ng mga Makabayang Obrero (KAMAO), he was physically present where the action was, the picket line.
That evening in April 1971 appeared to be another one of those nights when after a hard day’s skirmish with combined forces of Araneta Center security guards and Quezon City policemen, the strikers had relaxed on their respective resting spots around the sprawling compound of the Makabayan Publishing Corp.; the company was owned by J. Amado Araneta, grandpa of Liberal Party standard-bearer Mar Roxas. Jojo parked his car on the P. Tuason side of the compound, having decided to check how things were in the KAMAO strike after rescuing matinee idol activist Crispin Aranda from police detention; Aranda had been arrested in a melee in the Island Cement Strike in Antipolo. Hardly had Jojo stepped out of his sedan and began striking up a discussion with strike leaders when pillbox bombs exploded in the vicinity. Civilian-garbed toughies had suddenly sprung on the area and engaged the strikers in a free-for-all in an obvious attempt to break the picket. Jojo grabbed a sturdy-framed placard with which he repelled an assailant, while the SF (strike force) of the union blasted the attackers with their pillboxes, which sent them scurrying away.
So when Jojo speaks about upholding workers’ rights, it’s no empty talk. It’s a talk steeled by years of combating fascism and capitalist oppression and exploitation.
But on a level now much risen above barefaced class conflict, Jojo has steeped himself in the values of statesmanship: to intellectual competence, add patience and temperance, level-headedness and circumspection, diplomacy and humility – values befitting anybody who would aspire to the highest post of the land.
Like many veterans of the First Quarter Storm, Jojo has had his day, too, of revolutionary bravura, and in today’s celebration of Labor Day he must be tempted to engage in demagoguery as is the wont of many of his peers. He could cite the Paris Commune of 1848 or the Boston Massacre of 1868 if only to illustrate the shining moments in the continuing proletarian revolutionary struggle when, in the case of the Paris Commune, the working class seized political control and showed the world that the ideals of socialism and communism are realizable in our lifetime, and that, in the case of the May Day Massacre in Boston, a perseverance in the violent clash conflict can bring about a concrete establishment of working class societies such as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the people’s democracies of China, Vietnam and Eastern Europe.
But then if he called for renewed militancy in the Philippine working class movement, would Jojo not necessarily agitate for violence as is endemic in the class struggle. If he did that, how would he differ from the Davao City Butcher who attracts electorates to his platform of government founded on disrespect for the rule of law, summary killing, irreverence for the church, abuse of women, on the whole immoral governance that pays no heed whatsoever to human dignity.
But all doctrines change along with changes in the times. The violent, war characteristic of Labor Day has been tempered through all these difficult decades so that it must now give way to peaceful change as the dominant trend in the world.
This is the cross Jojo bears in the race to the finish line of the presidential race. Humility is not what a bloody crowd wants for a president; it is humbug, hypocrisy and horror. But he must keep his cool, reject the incessant call for blood. Otherwise, won’t he himself become the devil incarnate who succeeds in electrifying the electorates with his unorthodox, sanguine, strong-arm tactics of campaigning? Duterte will persevere in this method as he makes his hypocritical stance of taking up the cudgels for the working class this May Day. Jojo’s virtue lies in being able to tell Duterte: “Your way is just not right. You had better stop or I’ll shoot. “Tangna!”