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Veteran labor leader Manny Sarmiento dies in Austria

Former Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) leader and migrant rights advocate Manuel Sarmiento died in Vienna, Austria last Friday, December 11. He was 72 years old.

“Ka Manny” to the Philippine labor movement and the Filipino migrant community in Europe, Sarmiento was reported to have died “suddenly but peacefully.”

He served as KMU’s third secretary general and led the country’s premiere labor federation alongside iconic labor leaders Rolandia Olalia and Crispin Beltran from the federation’s founding in the 1980s.

Sarmiento worked as an accountant of the multinational corporation Nestle but resigned to work full time as labor organizer when he co-founded FILIPRO-Nestle Philippines, the union of the company’s sales force.

He was also president of the Drug, Food, and Allied Workers’ Federation, one of KMU’s founding organizations on May 1, 1980.

“Ka Manny was known as a silent worker, industrious and disciplined with time, especially at work and during meetings,” the KMU said in a statement paying tribute to one of its co-founders.

KMU said Sarmiento was kind and patient with the workers he came into contact with. He was also creative and frugal with resources.

KMU recalled that in response to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ General Order No. 5 prohibiting mass gatherings, Sarmiento organized the showing of the iconic film “Lion of the Desert” to militate workers against the draconian edict.

“It was actually an indoor rally by workers against Marcos’ order,” KMU said.

Sarmiento, along with current KMU chairperson Elmer Labog and fellow veteran labor leader Leto Villar, led the negotiations when all Nestle unions affiliated with DFA-KMU held a company-wide strike in the 1980s.

Exemplary leader

As a labor leader, Sarmiento was neat and efficient, writer Ina Silverio recalled.

“[He was] always so neat and organized…ensuring that the central federation’s position and analysis are presented in meetings and press conferences,” Silverio wrote in her tribute to her former boss of six years.

“[He was] never late to meetings, and when [he] led them, everything ran like clockwork,” she said, adding that while Sarmiento was kind and considerate with others, he was “strict when it came to ensuring that the agenda of meetings were followed and completed.”

Silverio recalled that while Sarmiento sacrificed a well-paying white collar job, he totally embraced the activists’ mantra of “simple life, arduous struggle,” thinking nothing of eating giveaways from grateful workers even on a daily basis.

“[N]o matter how simple the food was, we enjoyed it together, always laughing and telling stories. Suman. Pansit. Pan de sal,” Silverio wrote.

“There should be more Manny Sarmientos—a shining example of proletarian leaders!” Silverio said.

In 2004, however, Sarmiento could no longer put off his promise to his family to follow them to Austria.

“I know how sad [he was] when [he] had to leave for Austria. [He] already put off leaving for years, and it was time to bring [his] small family together. He was a great loss to the local labor movement then,” Silverio added.

Ka Manny Sarmiento in a Migrante Austria forum (photo by Migrante Austria)

Migrant leader

But the labor movement’s loss in Sarmiento was the then budding migrant rights struggle’s gain, KMU said.

“He was key in the formation of PINAS FIRST, the Pinoy First in Austrian Society for Integrity and Social Transformation), an organization of Filipino migrants in Austria,” KMU said.

Sarmiento was also Migrante International’s Austria representative, and was elected president when Migrante Austria was formally founded in 2014.

“Up until his death, Ka Manny worked with a company offering mailing and printing services while organizing, mobilizing and issuing statements of concern regarding the issues of migrants and refugees, recently within the framework of the April 28 Coalition, of which he was a founding member,” Migrante Austria said in its tribute to Sarmiento.

“Ka Manny was a fervent advocate of democracy and human rights. We at Migrante Austria would like to express our heartfelt thanks and appreciation for the years of comradeship we have shared. It has been a privilege and an honor to work with Ka Manny,” the group added.

KMU said that Sarmiento exemplified genuine activists who find a thousand and one ways to advocate for just wages, jobs, rights and freedoms of the working class wherever they find themselves.  # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Migrants in Europe push for full citizenship rights for workers, refugees

By Ian Dexter R. Marquez

ROME, Italy – An international alliance of migrant organisations is pressing European policymakers to grant full citizenship rights and regularization to all migrants, immigrants, refugees and displaced people.

In a petition, the International Migrants Alliance (IMA) – Europe said that allowing undocumented migrants to remain illegal are making them more vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Aside from their fear of losing their jobs due to the inevitable financial crisis brought about by the pandemic, they also fear of being accosted or arrested on the streets for not having the proper identification, stay and work permits if they need to go to work or buy their provisions,” IMA-Europe chairperson Zaria Galliano said.

Galliano said that undocumented migrants are overlooked when it comes to access to social and health services and protection because of their status, a situation remedied by regularization programs that provide them legal status in their destination countries.

Last March, Portugal granted temporary full citizenship rights to all migrants and asylum seekers to provide them full access to healthcare and financial aid during the pandemic.

Parliamentarians in France proposed a similar move for temporary regularization.

The programs have been pushed for humanitarian reasons, primarily to grant undocumented migrants full access to health care and other benefits.

According to a European Commission study, programs that have been carried out from 1996 to 2008 have resulted in over five million undocumented immigrants regularized.

Italy, for example, has regularized more than 1.2 million people since 1996.

Crisis, shortage

Galliano said that pandemic exposed the “flawed global health care systems of even the highly industrialized countries and their satellite states.”

“The inevitable collapse of financial markets and loss of jobs, personal incomes and life savings are causing untold anguish and panic around the world,” Galliano said.

There is an ongoing shortage of health workers in countries like Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom as more are falling victims to the virus.

In Spain, nearly 14 percent of confirmed cases are health workers.

At the epicenter of Italy’s outbreak, about 15 % of doctors and nurses have been infected.

These countries are brokering deals among themselves to bring in nurses and health workers, farm and other frontline workers.

“Although these workers are recruited to do the same type of work as local workers, they are paid less,” Galliano said.

She added that these migrant workers are also required to go through stringent requirements before they are given resident and citizenship rights.

IMA-Europe reported that in the UK, Ireland and Spain, undocumented migrant workers and asylum-seekers, including those with professional medical training, are already being recruited to work in care homes and hospitals in response to the outbreak.

Online petition

In a online petition, IMA-Europe called on people to “fight not only against the [corona]virus, but also against forced migration, capitalist exploitation, and imperialist plunder and aggression.”

“We call on policymakers to ensure that during this pandemic, vulnerable communities of migrants, refugees and displaced people are protected and afforded social and welfare assistance in recognition of their sacrifices and contribution towards alleviating the current global health crisis,” the petition stated.

Apart from pushing for the regularization and full citizenship rights for all migrants in the frontlines, IMA-Europe called for equal access to health care, social and welfare aid.

The group also clamored for the right to family reunification; universal right to public health for all, not for private profit; the bailout of workers, not multinational corporations; and the ratification of the International Labor Organization Domestic Workers Convention 189, an international agreement for the protection of domestic workers. #