In honor of International Workers Day, Migrante New Jersey, an organization that aims to advance the rights of migrant Filipino workers, with the support of National Democratic Filipino organizations and other progressive NJ organizations mobilized a solidarity caravan to support and join with the struggles of essential workers, promote their rights, and condemn ongoing violations during the COVID-19 crisis. May 1st is International Workers’ Day or “May Day,” an international holiday which began as a celebration of a strike for the eight-hour work day and continues to be a day of resistance for workers and labor organizing.
Several actions took place on Friday, May 1st to protest various businesses in Jersey City, New Brunswick, and Morristown that are violating workers’ rights amidst the COVID-19 crisis. From 11 AM to 7 PM, members of various activist and community organizations drove to several workplaces and made noise and delivered speeches to support and amplify the workers’ calls for better working conditions.
“Dahil ako ay isa ring manggagawa na nakikiisa sa pagbigay parangal sa lahat ng mga manggagawa sa buong mundo dahil sa inyong mga sakripisyo lalo na ngayon sa panahon ng pandemya. Ako ay sumusuporta lalo na sa mga manggagawa sa NJ na kumakaharap o nakakaranas ngayon ng mga paglabag sa kanilang mga karapatan at kagalingan.” said Lorena McRae, Migrante New Jersey Secretary General.
As of April 26th, the Jersey City COVID-19 statistics are as follows: 272 deaths; at Jersey City Medical Center, 108 Covid/PUI (Person Under Investigation) on that date; and at Christ Hospital, 104 Covid/PUI cases on that date. The total New Jersey COVID-19 deaths are at 5,863 (4/27/20). In terms of Jersey City cases are at 4,637 (4/25/20) 4,975 (4/27/20).
The cause of mass migration from the Philippines for work dates back to the 1970s, in which the Philippine government attempted to address severe systemic poverty by passing Labor Export Policy (LEP), which promoted exporting Filipino laborers to wealthier countries as a way to encourage a flow of remittance money to bolster the economy. Human rights organizations have long criticized LEP as it puts Filipino workers in vulnerable working conditions. In the US, Filipino migrant workers have regularly faced low wages and wage theft, minimal rights as non-citizens, and vulnerability to human trafficking, among other struggles. Now, conditions of neglect have been exacerbated in the pandemic. According to Migrante NJ’s investigations, various workplaces dependent on Filipino migrants are neglecting to inform workers of paid time off and earned sick leave, telling workers to self-quarantine without pay, neglecting to communicate about sanitizing workplaces, and neglecting to enforce social distancing protocols at the workplace, among various other violations. These violations put Filipino workers financially at-risk, make them unable to provide remittance money to send to family in the Philippines, and endanger their lives.
“We stand in solidarity with the frontline workers who are suffering from the crushing effects of neoliberalism and capitalism that have left them to fend for themselves with unsafe work conditions and navigating a for-profit healthcare system, while struggling to meet their basic needs such as rent, food, or even unplanned medical bills,” said Shaira, Interim Secretary General of Gabriela New Jersey.
Joining the caravan were other organizations across NJ who have seen similar workplace abuses across various communities and industries. Among the organizations were Gabriela New Jersey, an organization that supports Filipino working women; Anakbayan North Jersey and Anakbayan Rutgers; organizations of progressive Filipino youth within their respective regions, Movimiento Cosecha, an organization fighting to advance the rights of undocumented immigrants; New Labor, an organization that educates, organizes and fights for better working conditions; and Solidarity Jersey City, a people’s resistance network made in response to COVID-19. Together they rallied at Filipino-owned businesses, a health center, and other businesses that are largely dependent on immigrant workers. The unifying call was to express gratitude to all essential workers by exposing the injustices that are happening in these workplaces and by encouraging the workers to continue to stand up for their right to fair pay and safer work protocols as part of a larger process of ending exploitative work practices for all.
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