Cutting the ropes of exploitation

Reflections on the factory occupation by MCC-MSI Workers

By Jessarie Mendez and Rica Joy Magro (interns from PUP Sta. Mesa) 11 September 2016 On May 5, 2016, workers of Manila Cordage Company and Manco Synthetic Incorporated (MCC-MSI), started their protest against the rope-producing company when workers found out that the management was secretly planning to replace them as they witnessed new faces who work at night shift as trainees. Hundreds joined the protest and “occupied” the production site. The workers halted production and since then the company has not been operating. Workers are hoping that following this action, the government and their employers will listen to their demands for regular employment and better working conditions. We visited the MCC and MSI vicinity a few weeks ago to know more about their protest. We observed many things when we reached the site. At the entrance of the Carmel Ray Industrial Park in Canlubang, Laguna, we saw a lot of factories and warehouses, structures that seemingly promise  ‘development’ in the country especially for the people who work there. The industrial enclave, as they would call it, looks organized, clean, and peaceful. But as we get nearer to the MCC-MSI premises, we started to notice plenty of guards, almost 20 of them, surrounding the vicinity. The gate was full of red flags containing slogans and calls of the workers for better wages, ‘reinstatement,’ and an end to endo (short term for “end of contract”). These clear and living images of class conflict—heightened security on the part of the capitalist and militant defiance of the workers--can be fearsome for ‘visitors’ and ‘outsiders’ like us. A lot of questions went running through our heads as we continue our way inside the factory.

MCC MSI workers oppose illegal dismissal and contractualization (photo from Pamantik)

As interns of CTUHR, our main aim in visiting the protesting workers in MCC was to investigate their health condition, following the deaths of two of their co-workers. Between June and July, James Jones Lebosada, 33 years old died of cardiac arrest and Felipe Zurbito 37 died of tuberculosis. It is disheartening to hear about workers dying in the midst of injustice. The challenge for us was to see what kept them hanging on and moving forward despite everything. We saw longing and agony in the eyes of the workers we interviewed. It is almost embarrassing that kept asking about their conditions when it is obvious that they are struggling at many levels. Some of them are sick and would cough time to time while they share to us their stories. Some were stricken with fever, a few weeks after they started the protest. The absence of water supply made their situation more difficult. They had to buy water which is costly. To save the water, some of them would bathe when it rains. They already requested medical assistance from the Department of Labor and Employment but the agency said they are cannot conduct medical activities inside the premises; instead they advised the workers to visit and get health service from the village (baranggay) or municipal government. However, the workers cannot do so because of financial costs and possible threats they may encounter because of their protest. Many of workers in MCC and MSI have worked as contractual employees for a decade or so in the rope company. It was only recently that they organized themselves to form unions. Looking around the premises of the company and conversing with the protesting workers, made us realize that indeed, working in the rope company is very difficult. Workers complained about their safety conditions when the company was still in operation. The company and the manpower agency, Work Trusted and ANR manpower, does not provide them with personal protective equipments (PPEs). Instead, workers themselves shell out money to buy masks and other safety gears. Similar with other factories we learned about, safety and health aid are only visible when there are “visitors” like investors and labor inspectors. Workers had to endure the heat as there is no proper ventilation in the workplace. And whenever there are accidents, the company refuses to help the workers because they were not hired directly by the company but by the manpower agency. MCC-MSI workers may be quite lucky that they earn minimum wage rates. But still, roughly P350 for a day’s hard work would not suffice to meet their necessities especially for those who support a family. They have given many of their years working in the company but they are refused regular employment and the benefits due them. Worse, even the manpower agencies that hired them are colorums! Amid trying conditions, workers of MCC-MSI do not waiver in fighting for their rights. They remain united and resolved even if some of the workers have decided to work in other companies because of dire need to support their families. These workers continue to express support and unity with their comrades/co-workers by contributing part of their earnings to support material needs of to sustain the protest camp. Our short visit in MCC MSI instilled in us the value of solidarity and organizing. We witnessed in the experience of MCC-MSI workers how crucial mass organizing and trade union building is for workers to oppose exploitation and fight for better conditions. The union of MCC-MSI workers provide inspiration not only to us, but also to workers in other companies to organize among themselves and fight for what is just. Same as the hope and aspiration of the workers to end oppression in their work place, we, students now, and laborers in the future, are humbled by their experience. We express our support to the fight of MCC-MSI workers, to all workers in Carmel Ray Industrial Park and to all working Filipinos.###