How PH workers are tapping social media in gutsy ways

Originally published at Blogwatch

bring back NXP 24

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.

#bringbackNXP24

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.

#May1Fight

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.

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Tumultuous disturbance

first published on Blogwatch.ph

It was not the usual platitudes at the podium by the President, who seemed to be caught off guard during his Independence Day speech in Naga City by a brief chanting some 40 feet away. The words “Patalsikin ang pork barrel king! Walang pagbabago sa Pilipinas” rang through the mass of civil bodies and involuntarily filled in the two-second gap. In that brief moment, 19-year-old Ateneo de Naga student Emmanuel Pio Mijares seemed to deliver a dagger that disrupted Aquino’s thoughts and disturbed his imagined peace.

It was tumultuous disturbance but not in the way conjured by the President’s security personnel and the local police. It was tumultuous because there’s the precise political context that made Mijares’ statements extra explosive.

At that precise moment when President Aquino was weaving independence, freedom, democracy and justice into a nine-minute speech, Mijares stood out as real-life test of such grand concepts. On the same day, various groups launched protest actions to demand justice and accountability over the pork barrel scam. Ironically, the powers-that-be chose the hard-line treatment, making injustice and imprisonment of a heckler the theme of the day. Mijares was forcibly dragged out of the venue, was thrown to jail, and slapped with two criminal charges (on tumults and other disturbance, and direct assault). It couldn’t be more ironic.

Yet in a society where political opposition, especially as expressed by activists in Mijares’ mold, are met with ferocity, the consequence of the Independence Day “disturbance” is not surprising at all. The incident presents a preview of the Aquino government’s treatment of anyone who sharply questions the status quo, even if not expressed in a chanting fit amid a presidential speech. Even under this regime, critics are not just manhandled. I know several activists who have been killed or abducted under Aquino’s watch for their advocacies on human rights, labor, and environment. As Marocharim wrote:

“What Pio Mijares did is still a political act, a political expression, and it speaks volumes about the kind of political action you can expect from those who share his beliefs. Yet the treatment of him speaks something about the kind of politics that this administration subscribes to. The latter is far more damning than the former.”

Mijares could have just been ushered out of the venue and maybe verbally reprimanded. President Aquino could have just done an adlib, citing Mijares’ acts as indicator of democracy. He could have just requested his defenders on social media to lecture Mijares on Proper Decorum 101. But the highest official of the land was clearly caught off guard. While Mijares was prepared to face the consequences, Aquino seemed to be unprepared to handle the permutations of democracy which he ceremonially cites. And probably too, “pork barrel king” hurt him, because it is somehow true. Remember the first time President Aquino reacted to the “pork barrel king” tag? He was fuming mad.

The fact that Mijares was charged with tumultuous disturbance and direct assault for merely chanting and holding out a banner tells a lot about Aquino’s leadership. Why on Earth should he be charged as such? Like a hurt big guy, Aquino seems bent at making the kid suffer and at parading him as example of how speech disruptors would be treated. But rather than create an image of a trustworthy leadership, such response to Mijares’ heckling clearly presents a threatened childish leadership. It’s the kind that heavily values political alliances and friendships in this trying pork scam crunch time, yet imposes the full force of law on young unarmed hecklers.

What’s at stake in Mijares’ case isn’t the foundations of civility and respect for those in positions of power, but the very foundations of our free expression and democracy. Mijares presents a fine litmus test, in which his loss would mean criminalization of heckling. Conversely, it’s not as if letting Mijares scot-free would encourage rebellion and make public institutions and the head of state less worthy of respect. It is the President’s soft handling of allies tagged in the pork barrel scam that make the Palace less worthy of respect. Mijares’ bold move was just an expression of the public trust deficit to institutions right now.

The short supply of public trust to public officials isn’t something that will happen following Mijares’ acts. It has been around since the pork barrel scam erupted last year, and it is not hard to sense it in the buzz in barbershops and campuses. If this government is indeed worried about losing any semblance of authority and respect, then it should diligently pursue a case against its allies in the same depth and extent as that of the anti-Pogi, Tanda and Sexy crusade. President Aquino should spare no one in the pork barrel scam, not even his close friend Budget chief Butch Abad.  He should order the dropping of charges against Mijares, to at least assure that this government still values free expression and tolerates dissent of citizens, even in heckling form.

But heck, the Aquino administration finds it really hard to prove its “Daang Matuwid.” At the current rate of things, the young heckler activist’s slogan trumps the bankrupt yellow rhetoric. And in pursuing the prosecution of Mijares, the Palace, with the Naga police as proxy, is waging a political battle it can never win.