For the Proletariat
“Dialectical thought starts with the experience that the world is unfree; that is to say, man and nature exist in conditions of alienation, exist as ‘other than they are.’ Any mode of thought which excludes this contradiction from its logic is a faulty logic” (Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution).
As reported by the Asian Human Rights Commission ( 2003 ), the Nestle union in the Philippines, under the command of the United Filipino Employees (UFE), staged a strike to push the Nestle management in including retirement benefits in their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). In favor of the workers, the National Labor Reconciliation Commission, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal have decided and consequently ordered the Nestle management to get back to the negotiating table with the union. Conversely, the Philippine Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has remained silent on the issue. In 2001 however, when the existing CBA between the Union of Filipino Employees Drug and Food Alliance-Kilusang Mayo Uno (UFE-DFA-KMU) expired, Nestle Philippines refused the workers demand for negotiations on the CBA unless the Retirement Plan was excluded in the agreement. At the latter part of 2001, the Union filed a Notice of Strike on CBA deadlock and an Amended Notice of Strike on the grounds of Unfair Labor Practice for violation of Article 284 of the Labor Code, particularly Nestle’s refusal to bargain, or bargaining in bad faith. The Nestle Philippines management, however, has refused to change its position. In exchange, they have resorted to continuously harassing and intimidating the workers. They have openly used violence, dispersals using water canons fired by policemen were staged, and on Sept 22, 2005, the president of the union was shot dead.
‘The truth is out there’
Contrary to the ‘Good Food, Good Life’ Nestle is promoting as its advertisement line, material conditions speak otherwise. For if it is so the case, how come its own workers experience neither good food nor good life.
Looking at the recent Filipino commercial of Nestle, one can reckon that the company is very proud in trying to make us buy the fantasy that it is in fact part of the empowering of hundreds and thousands of Filipino workers and farmers. On boxes and sachets of Nescafe (one of Nestle’s leading products) even images of farmers happily gathering coffee beans are being depicted. However, upon analysis of the compilation of all commercials that Nestle have been brainwashing the consumers with, one will wonder why none of them is actually portraying the farmers enjoying the good food and good life Nestle is said to have been offering.
Zizek in one of his works said ( 1997 ), “What we are thus arguing is not simply that ideology of everyday life, but that this materialization of ideology in external ,materiality reveals inherent antagonisms, which the explicit formulation of ideology cannot afford to acknowledge” ( p. 10 ).
Nestle does not seem to be interested in selling their products to their own workers. It could be that they are not aware of the fact that the workers cannot afford to buy products they themselves produced. I think not.
In support of Zizek’s first argument, he added, “The relationship between fantasy and the horror of the Real it conceals is much more ambiguous than it may seem: fantasy conceals this horror, yet at the same time it creates what it purports to conceal, its ‘repressed point of reference” ( p. 10 ) This is what the company’s advertisements cannot conceal, Nestle workers, just like all proletariats of the world are alienated as well.
Karl Marx’s Theory of Alienation
Four aspects of alienation
The Product of Labor
In this age of capitalism, the worker, despite dedication and hard work do not have access to the products he himself laid his hands on. In the current mode of production, capitalists take ownership of all the means of production, the factories, the machineries, the raw materials. It is only the worker’s labor force which is left for him to claim his own, however, even the compensation for this labor is not being justly accorded, it is not in capacity to provide him a life you can call decent. The worker produces everything being exchanged in the market, however, he remains to own nothing but the capacity to produce more and to produce more for the disposal of the other. The worker remains impoverished.
Jody Cox in her essay said, “Marx argued that the alienation of the worker from what he produces is intensified because the products of labor actually begin to dominate the laborer” ( as cited in Lunn, 1984 ) . Since, the value of the product is determined by market forces such as demand and not by the amount of labor placed on it, commodities take forms autonomous and more powerful than the one who created them. Given the condition mentioned, the worker will never feel in communion with the product, consequently leaving him alienated.
The Labor Process
History has proven, capitalists treat their workers nothing more than machines in factories that they would keep if beneficial and dump if of no use.
The advancement of technology has made conditions more unfavorable for the workers. For the fear of being replaced by machines, they stretch their physical limits so as to catch up with the faculties technology has reached, leaving them frail and exhausted. Working conditions are at their worse. Nestle Philippines was once exposed for letting its workers sniff cough syrup to keep them alive while at work. Again, history has proven, capitalism can easily sacrifice a worker’s well being over his own profit. These working conditions obviously are not products of the worker’s choice, rather an imposed condition he has to swallow if he deems himself of with no options but to remain within the exploitative order.
Our Fellow Human Beings
In a hegemonic order wherein the dominant longs to perpetually exploit while the dominated is eternally exploited, antagonism among humans is society’s primary constitution. The worker will not be prevented from seeing the graces of others as his own sufferings. People unconsciously sees the other as either profit or loss., this decaying order will produce symptoms that it itself cannot manage.
Our Human Nature
Ideologically and repressively, capitalism impresses on us the idea that no social structure is better or in the densest cases, possible than the current. Implicitly, it reduces human beings to mere objects not capable of deciding their own destiny. It does not only leave us with no choice of choosing labors in accordance to our inclinations, it is not even in will and in capacity to provide humanity avenues for realizing the fullest of their potentials.
People as subjects of the capitalist ideology dominating the system have been made to fantasize that while enjoying the commodities of a “free-market” they are also at the same time alleviating the exploitation inherent to all forms of society since time immemorial. This fantasy creates their desire for these commodities and consequently for the capitalist system as a whole. Thus in order for a specific ideology to keep its power, it is required that they produce consciousness that will trigger people to desire. Logically, our consciousness is, to a large extent manipulated by the hegemonic order that desires to preserve itself.
An image therefore of a nestle peasant happily gathering coffee beans is not at all a reality of the current capitalist period, hence it is a project which aims to repress the antagonism between the dominant and the dominated and make us alien to the concept that alienation is taking place.
To end, I remember one story I heard from the Philippines, a story of a peasant of Hacienda Luisita ( a land owned by the former President of the Philippines, Corazon Aquino ) asked as to why tirelessly, without fear of his life being endangered, he is determined to stay in the picket lines. The peasant answered, ‘ I have offered my hands and my life to producing sugar, yet whenever my child cries for milk, not even sugar, I can put to his bottle’ .
This same man was said to have been shot dead by elements of the Philippine Armed Forces several months after the interview.
Afansayev, V. (1987). Dialectical Materialism. USA: International Publishers Company.
Lukacs, G. (1996). A Defense of History and Class Consciousness. London: Verso Publishing
Zizek, S. (1997). The Plague of Fantasies. London: Verso Publishing Company.