BAYAN Canada May First Statement
Danny (not his real name) wakes up to the buzzing noise of his alarm clock. It is 4:30 am on a cold Canadian morning, made even colder by the fact that he and his roommates are still without furniture and sleeping on the floor. There was a late April snow storm that passed during the night. He was sure of two things; he should have woken up earlier to be in time to travel the 3 hours to get to the worksite, and he will surely need the pick axe that day. The pick axe is needed to chip away at the ice on the tower where he and his co-workers install telecommunications equipment. Every day is like hanging on for dear life 200 meters up in the air in gusty winds. This is definitely not normal conditions for someone who comes from the tropics.
He sucks in some of the musty air in his cramped apartment and wakes up his six companions to make sure they all get to work on time. They do this almost ritualistically everyday because they have no other choice. Their families back in the Philippines are relying on them. More news about tuition fee increases, the price of oil and rice going up and some family member needing medical attention gets them going every morning. It’s either this or they are sent packing by the company that sponsored them to work as temporary foreign workers under the Canadian government’s program. Just a year ago the telecommunications company had broken the back of the union in the lengthy labour dispute. The company now subcontracts a firm that hires the migrant workers. Danny and friends are not aware of this. All they know is they have to make a living to pay off the loan sharks for the money they spent paying the recruitment agency. So they wake up and they work.
Len-Len, as her friends nicked named her is also getting up. It’s the third time she woke up since she’s gone to bed at eleven last night. The elderly woman she is caring for in the household where she works had called for her several times for assistance. No, she doesn’t work the graveyard shift; she’s a live-in caregiver under Canada’s federal program. After her long shift starting at seven in the morning preparing breakfast for her employers, she can’t refuse the wake-up calls. She’s afraid that the accusations and insinuations surrounding missing jewellery will start up again.
Anyway, isn’t Len-Len lucky that her employer gives her more hours by letting her work for the neighbour’s household? She caters their dinner parties which last late into the night. There’s no overtime paid though, just more exhausting work. She has ten more months to finish the Live-in Caregiver Program before she can apply for permanent status. Luckily, if she keeps her complaints to herself, she won’t be dismissed like she was in her last employment. It causes her so much anxiety knowing that being fired jeopardizes her status in Canada. So she wakes up and she works.
Manong (older brother) wakes up early as well. His old bones are sore in the mornings. His arthritic hands are beginning to get worse in his old age. This is a result of years of working in the textile industry, starting from the Philippines when he was a young man to the garment factory he now works for in Canada. He worries that the factory will close soon. He is sixty nine now, but he was only sixty when he first started working for the Canadian company. He and his wife who also works for the same employer were sponsored by their daughter who is a former live-in domestic. After years of their daughter’s sacrifice for the chance to get status in Canada and to sponsor her family, manong and his wife feel indebted. They feel obliged to help their daughter to augment the family income by continuing to work until their old age. Anyway, it’s for their grandchildren, and the other family members in the Philippines they support with their monthly remittance.
They can’t retire yet and collect old age pension even after nine years of working for the company. There are requirements for how many years one has to work in Canada before they can apply for their pensions. But manong is proud, because they have contributed to the productivity of the company who just purchased another plant in the U.S. A fact that makes him wonder why the company threatens to shut down their operations and move to China and India. Will the workers get fair compensation for their years of work when the factory doors finally shut? But that doesn’t matter, manong and his wife still wake up and they work.
Across this vast country on the other coast line, Doc wakes up to his youngest daughter’s screams. She is having her nightmares again. While attending to his daughter, his sister-in-law peeks in and asks, “Doc is everything ok?”
Doc who lives with his brother’s family to help keep his living expenses down is uncomfortable with this title. He hasn’t been able to practice his profession since he sought political asylum in Canada. He believes he can no longer be a surgeon again. The Philippine military elements that shot him with nine millimetre rounds that gruesome day a couple of years ago had sealed this fate. It is a testament to the elusiveness of democracy in the Philippines. Doc, a strong critic of the Philippine government, campaigned for a pro-people electoral party called Bayan Muna (People First). Doc always wondered how accepting the existing political system would be to progressives running for elections. Doc got his answer. His good arm that used to hold the scalpels to heal the sick still bears the scars from the bullet wounds. But it is his spirit that is most scarred. His wife died the day of the machine gun attack. In the highest form of self-sacrifice she covered him and took most of the hail of bullets. It is this image that his daughters sometimes wake up to, screaming.
Doc’s spirit may be scarred but it hasn’t been crushed. He still puts himself in the line of fire making statements against political killings in the Philippines. He still makes public appearances appealing to his compatriots and Canadians alike to take a stand and denounce the corruption and violence just weeks before the presidential elections in that country. He also gets up everyday working several jobs to make a living for himself and his young daughters. So he wakes and he works.
On May first 2010 we wake up and we work. We prepare for the various actions under the banner of BAYAN Canada. Some of us wake up early to prepare for our press statements and speeches for the crowds. Others prepare their phone list to mobilize for the actions across the country. Today we march shoulder to shoulder with all Canadian workers. They too may be awakening to the fact that the gains won from the workers’ struggles since the first May Day more than a hundred years ago are under attack. The exploitation of migrants, immigrants and refugees in Canada is the exploitation and oppression of all workers.
Philippines, a nation of labourers and landless peasants is also awakening. The thousands of people marching in Manila will make the streets rumble to the rhythm of their marching feet. Soon the fascists in the halls of power will be the ones to wake up in cold sweat. Their worst nightmare is advancing. We in BAYAN Canada march to this rhythm – the rhythm of our people’s resistance.