Labor Day in the Philippines: A Call for Strengthening Democracy

By James Jimenez

Today, May 1, Isn’t just a holiday with premium pay for those doing overtime; it’s so much more than even the occasion for rallies and protests. Take it, instead, as an opportunity to reflect on the fundamental role of labor in our society and how having a robust democracy is absolutely indispensable to safeguarding the rights of workers.

Even as we spend the day looking back on such historic victories for labor as the minimum wage, eight-hour workdays, and workplace safety standards, we also cannot lose sight of the challenges that remain: persistent contractualization, low wages, lack of job security, and unsafe working environments – when was the last time you saw a construction trabahador wearing safety gear while working on your neighbor’s latest house expansion project? Nor should we forget that many working-class Filipinos still haven’t fully recovered from the economic devastation they sustained when COVID-19 lay bare the systemic inequities within Philippine society.

To my mind, key to addressing these issues is the strength of our democracy. When society is governed by laws that are written and enforced for the greatest number, rather than dictated by the wishes of the privileged few, then the underlying structural inequalities are more likely to be addressed in meaningful ways. In a robust and vibrant democracy, it is possible to have labor laws that provide greater protections for labor, promote inclusive economic growth, and invest in the empowerment of workers.

The first step to a stronger democracy is to develop a generation of voters that are focused on the things that matter – voters that are immune to the allure of physical beauty, a clever turn of phrase, or a familiar last name. As we get closer to the National and Local Elections of 2025, we are looking for voters who are able to keep in mind that democracy is about ensuring that the voices of the most marginalized and disenfranchised among us are as loudly heard and as impactful as the voices of the privileged. We seek voters who look more closely at the platforms presented by candidates and Party-List organizations vying for their vote and ask: Do these platforms promise to prioritize the welfare of workers? Are these promises backed-up by well-articulated plans, or are they just beautifully worded vision statements? Do these candidates and Party-List organizations hold out the hope of decent work and social protection? Or do they support policies of convenience and compromise?

There’s no better time to start building that generation of labor-aware voters than today, Labor Day.  Today, let us renew our commitment to building a more just and more equitable society. Let us acknowledge the contributions of workers past, and bring honor to those efforts by committing ourselves to building on them through the choices on make on election day. As voters, we have the power in our hands to uphold the rights of labor today, and to build an even better tomorrow where every Filipino worker is guaranteed dignity, fairness, and respect.