Philippine labor

Labor Day playlist: 10 Filipino songs to honor our workers

Daniel Aloc

A graffiti for the International Worker's Day 2020 calls for workers to unite.

Rappler file photo

Celebrate and honor workers by listening to Filipino songs that document and pay tribute to their struggles

8-hour workday, minimum wage, paid vacation and sick leaves, overtime pay, health benefits, and of course, the weekend — these are only several of the rights and privileges we owe to the labor movement and those who continue to fight for working people.

While mass gatherings are limited under the Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine, it should not deter us from celebrating the historic struggles and achievements of the working class, even while staying home.

So here are 10 Filipino songs to commemorate International Workers’ Day on May 1:

“Araw ng Manggagawa” by Tambisan sa Sining, a Labor Day anthem that celebrates the heroism of the workers. Noted for progressive music that reflects the struggles of the workers, Tambisan also took part in the founding of the Kilusang Mayo Uno in 1980. Some of their songs include “Busabos ng Puhunan,” “Patay Na ang Kabayo,” “Kontraktuwalisasyon,” “Awit ng Pag-Asa,” and “Dakilang Pakikibaka.”

Sandaang Taon” by Musikang Bayan. Composed by Danny Fabella with vocals provided by Empiel Palma and Bayang Barrios, the song commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Philippine labor movement through the founding of Unión Obrera Democrática Filipina (Democratic Workers Union of the Philippines) on February 2, 1902. 

“Manggagawa” by Rody Vera. This protest song was featured in Mike de Leon’s Sister Stella L, a landmark film about unionism and human rights under the Marcos regime. Written by Jose Lacaba, it appeals for the working class to unite against the oppressive and exploitative ruling system.

“Haligi ng Maynila” by The Jerks. Pinoy rock icon Chickoy Pura wrote this powerful tribute to Filipino workers whom he depicted as the pillar of Metropolitan Manila, even as they’re among the most exploited sectors in the country.

“Karaniwang Tao” by Banyuhay ni Heber Bartolome. From the Kalamansi sa Sugat album, this Pinoy rock classic remains relevant today as Filipino workers continue to call for better wages amidst rising inflation and inadequate basic social services.

“Pugon” by The General Strike. “Pugon” literally translates to “furnace,” this blues song is dedicated to the 74 workers who died from the 2015 Kentex slipper factory fire in Valenzuela. It also tackles the suffocating condition of Filipino workers in general.

“Karne” by Datu’s Tribe. This heartrending song that depicts the plight of OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) is soundtrack to the indie film Magtanggol by Siegfried Barros Sanchez. The songspeaks of neoliberal policies of the government that supports the exportation of cheap migrant labor.

“Manggagawa” by Gary Granada. One of the highlights of Pagsamba’t Pakikibaka album, the song brilliantly illustrates the struggles of Filipino laborers whose hard work isn’t enough to lift themselves out of poverty.

“Ayan Na” by Einstein Chakras. From the compilation album Huling Balita: Songs for the Disappeared, the song tackles the parasitic capitalist system that subjects the working class to wage slavery.

“Awit sa Bayani” by Levy Abad Jr. A touching tribute to all the martyrs of the labor and people’s movement, like the slain labor leaders Manny Asuncion and Dandy Miguel, who were both killed in March after President Duterte ordered state forces to “shoot and kill right away” communist rebels.

Workers create the wealth of nations, and yet they remain poor and downtrodden. It is only fitting that we honor their sacrifices especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Uring manggagawa, hukbong mapagpalaya! –

Daniel Aloc is a graduate of Political Science at the Adamson University. He is a member of the League of Filipino Students and a senior analyst by profession. He has written opinion pieces for Inquirer and Manila Times.