Filipinos at front line of May Day protest rallies

Bernadette Ellorin (in glasses), chairperson of BAYAN-USA and one of the organizers of the May 1st Coalition. Photo by Roberto Reyes Ang

In what is billed as a “historic” May Day uniting immigrant workers organizations, labor and a revived Occupy movement, Filipinos joined thousands on the streets May 2 to demand a “more just and more equitable” world for the working class.

“Though it is an election year,” said Linda Oalican of Damayan Migrant Workers Association, “we know that the solution to the economic crisis, racism, unemployment, low wages, and rising tuition costs lies with us, the 99%, not with the politicians and the rich.”

“Over a hundred years ago, U.S. workers went to the streets to fight for the eight-hour workday. Workers were hoping that after eight hours of work, they could have time for their families and take care of their bodies and spirits. Today, U.S. workers, particularly low-wage immigrant workers, are in worse situation. With slave wages, they are forced to work two or three jobs or work 12 hours a day.”

Damayan and Ugnayan ng mga Anak ng Bayan marched with students and workers of all nationalities, as well as allies from the domestic workers movement. The contingent carried colorful, hand-painted banners demanding protection for domestic workers and accountability for traffickers, calling attention to the labor trafficking of domestic workers by diplomats with immunity. They also called for full workers’ and immigrants’ rights for youth, who they said “have to cope with rising tuition costs, as well as low wages and lack of immigration status.”

“This May Day was the largest we’ve seen in the past five years,” said Chevy Evangelista of Ugnayan, “and it’s because the workers, both immigrant and local, students, women, LGBT, and people of color who have been targeted by the police are all finding connections among the issues that affect all of us.”

Activists from BAYAN-USA and the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (Nafcon) also joined the militant protest actions, along with the Florida 15 — or F15 — a group of workers who were trafficked from the Philippines between 2007 and 2009 allegedly by Jose Villanueva who owns the U.S.-based San Villa Ship Management Company.

The F15 spoke during the rally at the South Plaza of Union Square.

“We were given a job different from the contract that we signed. We were paid below minimum wage with no overtime pay, given delayed salaries that some of us didn’t have for how many months. Because of this, we experience sleepless nights, stress, and discomfort,” said Givenchy Alberto, one of the F15 workers. “I am speaking in front of you not only to open your eyes that human trafficking is happening not only in the Philippines and in the U.S. but in the whole world.”

The F15 and other members of the Filipino contingent carried slogans on life-sized passports such as “Justice for F15,” “Stop Trafficking Our People,” “Stop Deportations” and “Legalization for All.”

“The trafficking of immigrant workers to the United States is fueled by the greed of U.S. imperialism. Imperialism depletes Third World countries of valuable resources and creates an exploitable reserve of cheap labor out of their people, including the youth,” Yves Nibungco, chairperson of the progressive youth group, Anakbayan New York/New Jersey, said.

Michelle Saulon, the North East coordinator of Nafcon, demanded, “We must denounce the rate of deportations in President Barack Obama’s administration which are at an all-time high, and call for the legalization of all immigrants.”

Bernadette Ellorin, chairperson of BAYAN-USA, declared, “We must unite and build solidarity between the workers of the Philippines and of the United States. We must intensify our fight against imperialism to win genuine democracy for the working class!”

Children were there too. Photo: Damayan

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