“The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.”
– Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach
Over the years, we have seen the crisis of capitalism, alongside its myriad of contradictions, took over the world’s dominant narratives that even popular Filipino films like Hello, Love, Goodbye (2019) and Never Not Love You (2018) have a thing or two to say about the contradictions of the global labor market.
The crisis is here and it has never left our system, and we, as workers in the industry, are more entangled to it than before. The growing number of people working in informal and precarious conditions around the globe, which largely include media workers who have no job security or social welfare, is ever increasing. In a study by Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) titled Uncovering the social security coverage of informal sector operators and workers using the Philippine Consumer Finance Survey by I.M.D. Landrito, W.B.J. Tolo, and C. D. Mina, it is noted that 40% of Filipino informal labourers have no social security. Informal sectors includes those who casually employed without formal contracts, including film talents (i.e. extras), production helpers, and moonlighting make-up artists among others. In PSA’s October 2019 Labor Force Survey (LFS), it is reported that 30.5 % of the employed workers are part timers, including those who are contracted in film productions.
As media conglomerates earn millions of pesos from producing entertainment products, thousands of film and media workers, including the star system, suffer from bad working conditions and extended working days that even led to the deaths of popular names like Eddie Garcia, Wenn Deramas and Francis Xavier Pasion. In addition to this are countless other labor violations (i.e. sexual harassment cases, illegal termination, verbal abuses) that continue to exploit the labouring class. Yet, amidst this storm of labor injustices, one cannot simply quit. One needs to keep their jobs in order to live. It is a vicious cycle that has to stop.
The extent of precarity (i.e. part time jobs, lack of security of tenure, rampant contractualization) of Filipino media workers have a history, and it has been an on-going struggle until today. During the 1960s, Filipino film workers held strikes against the studio system of four big production companies namely Sampaguita Pictures, Premiere Productions, LVN Pictures, and Lebran Pictures for their unfair and exploitative labor practices. This led to the eventual closure of the studios and the takeover of new players in the market. The trajectory would eventually led us to today, in which, after many decades, the abuses of the first strike still carries on today.
Why Read Marx, Here, Now?
The current status of the labour sector in the film industry has made Karl Marx writings more relevant than before. Karl Marx’s is synonymous to his most popular writing The Communist Manifesto, written with Friedrich Engels, which is a unity call for workers of the world to unite against capitalism. However, Karl Marx’s Capital provides us the answers to the following: ‘why unite?’; ‘how does exploitation works?’; ‘who are the victims?’; ‘who are the enemies?’ It lays down the basic groundwork for how the system works, of course, with a different approach.
Karl Marx’s Capital is a critical study of capitalism from the perspective of the workers of capital who are exploited for their labour services. It systematically reveals, from the most basic to the most complex expression, the nature of exploitation that workers face under capitalist mode of production. Although written during late 1800s, Marx’s analysis of capitalism still holds the same formula: the value of labour exploited from us can be calculated from the work hours that we allotted for a certain task or job.
In capitalist mode of production, time is the basis of every value-process. The more efficient the work process, the more surplus value one can extract. The management of time in our local film industry is built on the same principle: the more efficient a worker (i.e. a director, a scriptwriter, a gaffer, a cameraman) can finish a certain task, the more projects they can create, the more value funders or studios can get from them. However, efficiency can also be attributed to ‘hiring’ or using automated machinery (i.e. celluloid to digital camera) or ‘disposable’ temporary workers that can fill in for the work necessary, replacing regularized workers with automatons and part timers. Capitalism, which is driven by profit motive, opts to minimize the cost of labour by employing workers who can do several jobs at the same time (i.e. multitaskers) and by using machinery to decrease human error (i.e. autopilots, bots, etc).
Why do capitalists need to decrease labour cost and still maintain or maybe increase performance? They do this to accumulate capital, to increase their domination in the market wherein competition among capitalists are cutthroat. If one studio can make two blockbusters films in one month while the other studio can only make one given same period with the same labor cost, the former studio can earn more than the latter. While the competition among capitalists are fierce (i.e. ABS-CBN vs. GMA Network), the ones who suffer the most are the marginalized workers who have no social security (i.e. SSS, PAGIBIG, PhilHealth, HMOs) and security of tenure (i.e. part-timers, job orders, contractuals). They are compelled to sell their labor in exchange of a small amount of wage sometimes even not enough for they day-to-day expenses.
In Capital, Marx laid down the mechanism of how this system works bit by bit, from the notion of commodity in relation to the worker to the relation of worker with the whole system. Indeed, in order to change our bad working environment and improve our wage rates, we need to study our present condition systematically and see the means by which we can improve our condition, and perhaps someday, get rid of the system that continue to exploit us.
Strike II is dedicated to providing understandable educational materials publicly accessible for media workers and media students. We use pedagogical approach to re-educate the marginalized labour sector of the industry to incite self-conscious awareness of their social condition and encourage them to unite and lobby for their rights.
Discussion Guides for Media Workers
The series Discussion Guides for Media Workers is a project that aims to provide a curated, popularized, modularized study guides of relevant progressive texts that can be of aid to film workers, students, and other interested parties in conducting their educational discussions. This series took off from the ‘Reading Capital as Media Studies’ Reading Group organized by graduate students of UP College of Mass Communication as a means to expand the readership of Karl Marx.
Each study guide is divided by module, with each module covering a chapter or section of the text in focus. Each module is comprised of a downloadable Powerpoint Presentation (ppt), a handout as well as links to publicly available audio-visual materials and other relevant materials that educators can use in their educational discussions. All modules are accessible for public use and educators are free to modify their contents depending on their needs.
All generated materials in the modules will be de-facto written in English but Strike II will aspire to translate these materials into Filipino when necessary. The series will kick off with the study guide for Marx’s Capital Volumes 1 to 3, published monthly (one module per month).