Originally published at Blogwatch
Photo by IOHSAD
There is some sort of alienation when new tech gadgets are rolled out from assembly lines and into the bustling marketplace. Electronics workers rarely make out the most of these tools to at least be heard in the vast social media sea. In the daily grind, they work to produce communication tools which the middle class use to share a wide range of content, from selfies to scrumptious desserts and social commentaries.
Now this is something new: the workers who make your smartphones, tablets and PCs are tapping these same tools to present a different story to these gadgets. Seeing the potential of social media to push for advocacies, workers are now bringing the issues of meager wages, contractualization and union-busting closer to the general public.
Take the #bringbackNXP24 for instance, a campaign that calls for the reinstatement of 24 illegally dismissed union officers and for the resumption of stalled bargaining talks in electronics firm NXP Semiconductors in Cabuyao, Laguna. In around three weeks’ time, the Facebook page has drawn over 1,000 likes and boasts of active daily engagement among its base and outer circles – something unusual for a relatively unpopular campaign and for a labor issue in the Philippines at that.
Last May 5, the 24 union leaders were illegally dismissed by the company for merely spending the regular April holidays (April ) with their families. NXP Semiconductors describes the workers’ decision not to work on a regular holiday as “illegal strike.” But the union maintains that the management’s move is meant to derail the ongoing negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
“The union demands a significant wage hike for workers – an 8% increase, while the management wants only a 3.5% raise. The union also insists that contractual employees be regularized, to which the company disagrees,” the campaign’s Change.org petition reads.
#bringbackNXP24, which is the brainchild of a circle of labor advocates, has now become the buzzword and battle cry of thousands of NXP workers and their supporters. It is now part of the “unselfies” of trade unionists and labor advocates from Australia, Hongkong, China to Belgium. It is in the placards carried by workers during their protests. It is even spraypainted on the company’s white walls inside the Light Industry Science Park (LISP) in Cabuyao, a sign of defiance against the economic zones’ strict “no union, no strike” policy.
The inspiring thing about the campaign is that NXP workers themselves are the ones sharing updates inside the company. Just recently, a worker uploaded a photo of the latest company memo that tries to sow confusion among the 1,500-strong workforce. In another instance, a worker uploaded a photo of the company’s anti-union message contained in a paper strip.
Ahead of this year’s Labor Day commemoration, Filipino workers and labor advocates embarked on an enterprising initiative to mark the special day in social media alongside the democratic protest actions in Manila and key cities. Through #May1Fight, netizens were encouraged to support the workers’ cause by sharing Labor Day memes, photos and messages, which were later compiled in a Storify post.
Interestingly, the initiative piqued the interest of mainstream media and bloggers. Philstar.com reported that #May1Fight drew over 400 tweets on May 1 as tracked by analytics tool Hashtracking. Again, this is a remarkable baby step for a breakthrough labor advocacy initiative on social media in the Philippines.
Raising workers’ capacities
To complement and sustain these initiatives, at least two projects are focused on raising capacities of Filipino workers to use social media and citizen journalism to amplify their voices and to influence policymakers.
Contractuals for Change Media Media Collective (CCMC), a project by the Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (EILER), is conducting social media trainings among contractual workers, who constitute the majority of the workforce yet voiceless and not represented by existing unions. The project is supported by the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) and Otto per Mille.
Another initiative, WORKINGCAST, targets unionists for social media and photojournalism sessions to help workers document cases of work-related accidents and union activities. The project is run by the Institute for Occupational Health and Safety Development (IOHSAD), a Manila-based labor NGO. More often than not, work-related injuries are easily swept under the rug by erring companies, as traditional media cannot immediately access company premises. Hence, the project seeks to shed light on numerous health and safety violations in the workplaces that lead to terrible injuries or even death of workers.
During Saturday’s celebration of Social Media Day, Filipino workers and their supporters vow to take part in the #boomPH activities at SM Aura. They will carry their demands for regularization and higher wages loud and proud, alongside equally important causes in the vibrant local social media landscape.