It’s labour day again in the Philippines. A colleague of mine noted the irony in this celebrated occasion being a “non-working” holiday. But the way that irony and many others simply fly over pointed heads in a society renowned for missing simple points is another topic for another occasion. The more important thing to observe, for now, is the usual power-to-the-worker rhetoric we will likely hear being chanted on the streets in spectacles organised by the usual suspects.
What are the key points in the tired rhetoric of this “workers’ struggle”? Pretty miuch the same — higher wages, better working conditions, and (the most important thing) more jobs. Hopefully they don’t forget to say “please” when they demand the last item.
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Demand. Regarding the term from its more logical sense, we find that “demand” is way outside of the domain of the perverse equations Leftist groups use to describe the causes they champion in the name of the so-called “welfare” of the Filipino workers they would like us to believe they are “fighting” for. Rather, demand in the sense of how it is really relevant to workers’ interests is one component of two key components in a simple but relatively sound economic principle. The other of the two is supply.
The Philippine economy does not exactly present the average worker with much leverage to ask for nice stuff like “decent” wages and “sufficient” medical benefits. The enormous number of Filipinos looking for jobs pretty much tilts the playing field in favour of the side looking for workers. In short, the supply of Filipino workers utterly dwarfs demand for them. Why would an employer pay Php125 more for one worker when there are gazillions more out there lined up willing to work for jack squat?
Oh, but the Filipino worker works “hard”. Indeed we do — or at least we imagine (no, would like to think) that we do. The eminent Filipino thought leader Nick Joaquin did observe in his seminal piece A Heritage of Smallness…
The Filipino who travels abroad gets to thinking that his is the hardest working country in the world. By six or seven in the morning we are already up on our way to work, shops and markets are open; the wheels of industry are already agrind.
Yet when it comes to measuring the results of this “hard” work, disappointment takes over where “pride” once sat…
So much effort by so many for so little. Like all those children risking neck and limb in the traffic to sell one stick of cigarette at a time. Or those grown-up men hunting the sidewalks all day to sell a puppy or a lantern or a pair of socks. The amount of effort they spend seems out of all proportion to the returns. Such folk are, obviously, not enough. Laboriousness just can never be the equal of labor as skill, labor as audacity, labor as enterprise.
The important challenge that faces Filipino labour on this day is to move from (A) the tired old tradition of championing what they feel they are entitled to into (B) a more modern approach that involves finding a compelling value proposition. The earlier, A, is an appalling mindset ingrained by decades of misguided Leftist dogma. The latter, B, promises sustainable results — because at its core lies the long-lost seed of all things good: personal accountability. Because the reality is far far from the comfy regime of entitlement traditional “labour leaders” would like their constituents to form part of.
Filipino labour, at the moment, is a commodity like Arab oil, Brazilian rubber, and sub-Saharan diamonds. The only real thing that gives value to cheap Pinoy labour and other commodities is the vast capital base, industrial might, and immense purchasing power of the advanced world that creates employment for the rest of the labour-added-value world (of which our society happens to be a sizeable subset of — to the tune of 100 million).
That the Saudis would every now and then decide to pump more oil to stabilise or temper world prices indicates an apparent fear of advanced nations developing new forms and sources of fuel in response to higher energy costs.
In short, if oil supply becomes an issue, the Advanced World will mobilise its vast technological might to overcome that setback. Indeed, the amount of output for every kJ of energy consumed by the U.S. has doubled over the last 20 years. Couple that efficiency gain (sorry, there’s no Tagalog word for THAT concept) with the ability to explore alternatives. The ability to explore and exploit the North Sea and arctic regions for new oil deposits can only be pulled off by the Vulcan technology that only the advanced world possesses.
The bottom line is that we should not be too cocky about our presumed place in the economic scheme of things. If cheap Filipino labour suddenly disappears from the face of the earth, advanced nations will, in the same way, manage to find solutions to overcome such a setback and certainly will be able to explore alternative sources. I can have faith in civilisations that’ve survived the Dark Ages, the Inquisition, rebuilt from innumerable wars, pulled themselves together after being nuked, re-invented themselves after being flooded by Asian automobiles and electronics, and keep their noses up despite their politicians.
On the other hand, one wonders whether a society such as ours that had more than enough forests, minerals, rainfall, natural beauty, and exceptional command of the planet’s primary language of knowledge and learning yet remains dreadfully impoverished can prevail. After flattening our forests and kneeling in prayer as our population ballooned to an enormous size, we now talk as if the world owes us a “decent” buck.
Nick Joaquin again…
An honest reading of our history should rather force us to admit that it was the colonial years that pushed us toward the larger effort. There was actually an advance in freedom, for the unification of the land, the organization of towns and provinces, and the influx of new ideas, started our liberation from the rule of the petty, whether of clan, locality or custom. Are we not vexed at the hinterlander still bound by primordial terrors and taboos? Do we not say we have to set him “free” through education? Freedom, after all is more than a political condition; and the colonial lowlander–especially a person like, say, Rizal–was surely more of a freeman than the unconquered tribesman up in the hills. As wheel and plow set us free from a bondage to nature, so town and province liberated us from the bounds of the barangay.
Sadly, “Independence” (the real one granted in 1946) failed to deliver on its promise because the capital-intensive economic legacy of the evvvillll forces of imperialism that Leftists and commies love to demonise today failed to take hold on what was — and still remains — the primitivist society that is “the Philippines”.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.