Rat in the Cage*
The world is a vampire… sent to drain
Secret destroyers… hold you up to the flames.
And what do I get for my pain?
Betrayed desires, and a piece of the game.
– Smashing Pumpkins, “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness*
There’s some joke I heard that people have quit tightening their belts because there’s no more leather to poke holes into. What makes the joke a bit on the sick side is that instead of tightening belts, some have tightened a noose around their necks. The morbidity of it all comes with the fact that you just don’t know if anyone’s doing this… literally or figuratively.
I really do not know how to begin, to continue, and end my thoughts for the day. It’s hard to articulate the thoughts of every person out there who, just in the past few weeks, probably got terminated. There are many euphemisms for a layoff: “redundancies,” “re-engineering,” “termination en masse,” or measures like freezing salaries or cutting down on working days. What stands between the worker and the road to ruin is that one lifeline that tethers people to have a sense of purpose in capitalist society: a job that pays a wage.
“The worst is yet to come,” says former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, and gives us the numbers: a 4.0 to 4.5 percent growth rate in 2008, and a 1.9 percent increase in exports growth from January to October 2008. I do not envy the almost-prophetic burden Professor Diokno has to carry in his presentation this afternoon at the University of the Philippines School of Economics; where he doesn’t warn of the impending storm, where he doesn’t bear news of a coming storm, but has to tell us all that the storm is here.
On Tuesday, the Department of Labor and Employment reports that 23, 485 Filipino workers, both here and abroad, have lost their jobs because of the economic crisis. Jay Julian, spokesman for DOLE, says that 19,443 workers have lost their jobs here, and 4,042 have lost their jobs abroad; a grand total of 23,485 jobs lost in just under three months. The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines – for all its failings – said that 2,933 of its members have been laid off, and 3,300 had their working hours cut or modified.
Numbers depress me; not because I’m not good in math, but because the grim picture of the defeated worker in my head is starting to have a very factual picture. The images are all too grim; the assembly lines halt, the offices get padlocked, and the city streets get filled with former workers – old and young – looking for a shot at work. People who walk to tall office buildings wearing their best, preparing their lines, carrying resumes and references in brown envelopes protected by bigger plastic ones.
Whatever I imagine about children sharing a piece of tuyo, or parents saving up the wax of candles, is nothing compared to the grim reality of numbers. Not the number-crunching done on how to save on expenses, not the household accounting done on a small Golden Gate notebook, but the numbers that tell you that every job loss is just another statistic. Just another number. Just another victim.
Numbers do not have the poetic or dramatic effect of the many stories out there talking about surviving a crisis, but the in-your-face effect that anyone who has lost a job or had their working hours cut can count themselves among the 23,484 others who lost theirs, and have stories to tell. You’ll have stories of people eating nothing more than instant noodles on credit, students who put their education on hold, duped OFWs who left home with a debt and come home to a debt with interest. Different stories about the same thing… poetic, flowery, a formula for literary immortality.
You’ll have stories of kids who sell yema to augment the family income, most certainly to depressed writers like me who decompress at wi-fi ready coffee shops, tapping away their resentment on blog entries instead of doing something noble and dramatic, like writing the President, coming up with an innovative idea, or leading a strike.
How many letters does the President get? How many ideas can you have? How many workers are willing to strike?
Short answers: many letters, no ideas, not a soul… not even mine. The tears well up in my eyes at this point, but it’s not going to feed anyone. The most brutal ones – the most in-your-face reminders – are the numbers printed in giant block fonts in any given newspaper, telling you that your dreams have all been dashed by the grim economics of things that you, an honest worker, had nothing to do with except work for. You just turned the wheels, broke your body, ruined your soul, compromised your happiness… and now it’s all gone.
Perhaps everything is just bollocks, that like puberty and some random virus, everything settles. All this will pass. The future is bright. There is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a kind of tomfoolery, pardon my British,to swipe this bollocks with a different kind of bollocks.
There was a time that this all means getting back on the job market and seeking greener pastures. Be like a cow, go with the herd. Yet the economic crisis doesn’t do that. Losing jobs before means all the room in the world then to grow and explore the many opportunities you missed out on. No, not today. The grass is only as green as it was when your little patch dried up. And it’s not your fault. Dammit.
Sometimes I think this is merely the product of too much empathy, or reading too many news stories, but the more I think about it, the more things get real. Every bit of anger descends, settles, and gives you a good realization from the song blaring from your earphones and wrecking your sense of hearing:
Despite all my rage, I’m still just a rat in the cage.
* – For those friends – seen and unseen, befriended and unknown, who lost their jobs or had their working hours cut.