By Phoebe De Padua
This slightly edited talk was presented July 31 on the Workers World Party webinar titled “Lenin and the working class.” Go to youtube.com/watch?v=bNLB1b3tFKY to view the entire webinar.
Warm and militant greetings, comrades! I am very glad to be part of this important and relevant webinar presented by Workers World Party, which is focused on advancing the struggle for workers’ power in the United States and across the world.
Without a doubt, the leading class in the Philippine Revolution is the proletariat, the working class. History has shown that the Filipino proletariat is the most advanced productive and political force in the Philippines because it has dared to lead the people onto the road of revolutionary armed struggle against their foreign and local oppressors. The proletariat is also the class that has gained the most experience and lessons during the concrete practice of the Philippine Revolution.
Phoebe De Padua speaking at the July 31 webinar.
The Philippines is a semi-feudal and semi-colonial country, so the main force in the Philippine Revolution is the peasantry. Due to this character of the Philippines, a basic alliance of the working class and the peasantry serves as the stable foundation of the national united front in the Philippines.
Building a national united front
Only by building up such an alliance can the middle forces, the petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie, be attracted into a national united front to isolate the enemy – the comprador class of the big bourgeoisie, which consists of current Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, son of martial law dictator and former President Ferdinand Marcos. The Marcos regime is a U.S. imperialist puppet. They are all actively plotting against the interests of the proletariat. They are the enemy of the Filipino working class and the Filipino masses.
The Filipino proletariat is actively struggling for an end to their exploitation. Under grim working conditions, workers’ right to form or join unions and other organizations are curtailed by the anti-labor government – either by brute force or as a consequence of flexible working arrangements, such as contractualization and informal employment.
From 2016 to the present day, it has been documented that there have been at least 71 killings of trade unionists, three cases of abduction and five disappearances – four of which involve women labor organizers. Also, there have been 41 illegal arrests and detentions, and more than 100 arrests of workers involved in strikes and protest actions.
On International Working Women’s Day this year, March 8, members of Women Workers United in the Philippines brought attention to how many women workers are still employed as contract and agency workers. They have fewer privileges compared to workers who are men. Women workers face inequalities in hiring policies, wages, benefits, leaves, and even in workplace facilities. Women’s employment in contractual work and odd jobs in the informal sector are significant barriers to their unionization.
Plight of Filipino migrant workers
Filipino workers’ struggles are certainly not confined to Philippine borders. Many Filipino people are forced to leave their homeland in search of work, which was systematized by the Labor Export Policy that the Marcos regime put into place in 1974. It’s been said time and time again that the largest export of the Philippines is the overseas Filipino worker. More than 2 million Filipino people work overseas, and more than 60% of them are women workers.
One important workers’ struggle to highlight is the struggle of Filipino migrant workers in Hong Kong. There, migrant women, with the support of faith leaders and the church, have been fighting for better working conditions for their domestic work. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, overseas Filipino migrant women in Hong Kong risked their lives and reputations as they spoke out against the anti-people policies of the Philippine government. They were unfairly red-tagged and labeled as “terrorists,” all while providing services and support that the Philippine government has failed to provide Filipino migrants.
Migrant women workers in Hong Kong are committed to serving the people. They meet regularly as members of GABRIELA and other Filipino national democratic organizations, which are getting to really know the conditions of Filipino workers. They are conducting social investigations and class analysis, and facilitating political education among the Filipino masses in their local Hong Kong context. These migrant workers continue their militant struggle – despite their precarious conditions, lacking secure jobs and fair wages, and living in a foreign country that is not their home.
Struggle of Jollibee workers
There are ways for non-Filipinos and our allies to support the Filipino workers’ struggle here in the United States. We are part of the Justice for Jollibee Workers Campaign, which is demanding improved working conditions, higher wages, paid leave, and the reinstatement of illegally terminated workers.
Jollibee is a Philippines-based fast-food chain that is rapidly expanding across the world. The chain made $31 million in profits in the U.S. in 2022; 40% of their total revenue comes from overseas. The company is set to make record profits and add hundreds of locations this year. Jollibee is a beloved fast food chain for Filipinos around the world, but has a history of bad workplace practices in the U.S. and in the Philippines.
In late 2022, workers at the Jollibee Journal Square location in Jersey City, New Jersey, decided to write a sign-on letter to their bosses to demand a wage increase, holiday pay, and other improvements in the workplace. In January 2023, the Jollibee workers started gathering signatures on the letter. After a couple of weeks, the Jollibee workers garnered the support and signatures of 90% of the workers in the store.
By mid-February 2023, unbeknownst to the workers, management became aware of the organizing activities and started surveilling the workers. From Feb. 18-20, the Journal Square managers held captive audience meetings in which they spun a story that the store had been losing money for the past two years, and so had to lay off all the workers who had been working there for six months or less. Nine of the workers were illegally terminated. These so-called layoffs were management’s attempt to prevent the workers from delivering the sign-on letter and prevent any further organizing efforts by the workers.
We demand basic rights!
The workers’ demands to the Jollibee food corporation are clear and simple:
- Uphold workers’ rights to organize at all Jollibee stores;
- Reinstate all fired workers and give them back pay and compensation for lost wages;
- Apologize publicly for retaliating against workers for organizing;
- Higher wages, holiday pay, and other workplace improvements now!
Unsurprisingly, the Jollibee Foods Corporation has not responded to these demands and remains silent on the illegal terminations. The Journal Square Jollibee manager declined to comment when they were reached on the phone. Our organizations are continuing to reach out to the Filipino community and our allies to build support for this campaign.
A big thanks to all the Workers World Party comrades who showed up at our official campaign launch at the Jollibee Journal Square location on July 6 – National Fried Chicken Day. It was powerful to witness workers’ solidarity. We are hoping to build off this momentum.
You can continue supporting us by following and resharing our social media pages and content. Thankfully, our Instagram page is still up, but Facebook banned our Justice for Jollibee workers page on July 14, saying that the page was against their standards of “account integrity and authentic identity”!
Facebook is the most commonly used social media site of Filipinos, and the now-banned Facebook page was a place where thousands of supporters, mainly from the Philippines, expressed their solidarity. The bosses are afraid of workers speaking out – and exposing the abusive workplace practices of the Jollibee corporation worldwide!
We ask that you also speak out against Facebook’s censorship of the campaign’s page, and show up for any actions that we plan in the future. We also have a LinkTree and a website, which includes links to our fundraising page and our volunteer sign-up form: See www.justice4jollibeeworkers.com.
We are in solidarity with all the workers in the United States who are fighting for better working conditions and higher wages. The strikes, unionization efforts, and workers’ struggles for better contracts with higher wages, more benefits, and improved working conditions demonstrate that the ever-sharpening conditions in the U.S. continue to motivate workers to demand material changes from their bosses.
It is imperative that the most oppressed members of the working class awaken the consciousness of the majority of workers to unify against the common enemy – the imperialist ruling elite here in the belly of the beast and its puppets and lackeys across the world. International solidarity among workers of the world is necessary for advancing the overall struggle against imperialism, or as Lenin described it: “the highest stage of capitalism.”
We thank Workers World Party for inviting us to speak about the role of the Filipino working class in advancing the people’s democratic revolution in the Philippines and in solidarity with workers’ struggles across the world.
Phoebe De Padua (she/siya) is the Educational Development Officer of GABRIELA – New York, a militant women’s organization fighting for national democracy in the Philippines with a socialist perspective.