Too often, we get praises about our employment prospects in UP, and it’s easy to get distracted with a false sense of elitism. In truth, UP’s current employment climate isn’t worthy of celebration. It represents the sorry state of an already weakened labor movement.
There’s plenty of room for debate as to how this came about. It could be poor management and poor vetting of companies. It could be a result of a faulty RGEP curriculum, which focuses too much on the rote memorization of facts, dates, and events. Or it could be a symptom of an even bigger problem, which is the rise of economic globalization. What’s abundantly clear, though, is that there’s a worrisome trend of increasing corporate influence in most of our major universities, and we’re producing out of touch graduates who show little to no concern for the plight of minimum-wage earners in major corporations, focusing instead on the value of their first paychecks and how fast they could go up the professional leader.
Many companies have mastered the art of hucksterism, appealing to the deepest psychological instincts of consumers and prospective employees alike. They rebrand themselves according to what best captures this weakness. Oil companies are now energy companies. Those with a long history of busting unions and abusing workers show smiling faces of their employees in TV ads. And companies with controversial products use superficial CSR projects to distract us from the damage that they’re causing. Essentially, these marketing strategies have been shown to work.
To discern trickery of this sort needs more than an ability to solve a hard engineering problem. It requires a complex combination of personal development and institutional changes.
If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past five years about corporations, it’s that they do not spend money out of the goodness of their hearts. Stock dividends, CSR projects, donations to the poor–all are meant to improve their image to potential investors with the least possible costs. Make no mistake, the profit motive remains the central theme of our economic system.
It’s sad, then, to see UP become a platform for corporate propaganda. We have allowed the culprits of economic inequality to present students with ‘facts’ that suit their own agenda. We compromised the integrity of our institution by underestimating the power of a small logo beside an event name. We have become so desperate for sponsors that we no longer care about a company’s legal history.
Imagine a situation where you’re looking at a poster for a feeding program for poor children. And at the top you have Company X’s logo. How would you feel? If this was me five years ago, my overall impression of that company would improve. I’d start planning out how to work for them in the future. And that’s exactly the kind of mindset they want you to have. They use our emotions to control us, to make us think that they’re on the side of the marginalized.
Another way in which the corporate elites appeal to students is by marketing themselves as ‘pro-science,’ as opposed to organizations like Greenpeace who peddle ‘left-wing conspiracy theories.’ We’re made to believe that everything we’ve been told about their company was a lie. And some people buy it. After all, there’s some form of psychological relief that we feel when we get to hear the ‘other side.’ We saw this in the first few months of Gina Lopez’s appointment when mining students from the College of Engineering organized against her crackdown on irresponsible mining companies. ‘Yes to Responsible Mining,’ they said.
But where were these people years ago when mining companies were destroying the lands of our indigenous tribes? Where were you before Duterte’s anti-mining rhetoric? As disagreeable as I find Gina Lopez, she shouldn’t be dismissed as a lunatic, nor should she step down as DENR chief. She brings to light the concerns of the poor and the creeping elitism within the academe about scientific progress.
There’s a reason why the tribes are against mining companies. It’s because they saw how their environment has been damaged. Beneath the pro-science rhetoric of mining companies lies their deceitful practices and inhumane treatment of the poor. Do you honestly think that a company with enough money for legal representation would work fairly with those who could barely afford food? We seem to have forgotten the number of labor leaders and environmental activists who have died because they stood up against the greed of the mining companies. No doubt, mining is essential in creating our everyday products but we must always be wary of the intentions of mining firms and recognize that for many corporations, it’s always profit above anything else.
There are companies who sell lifestyles instead of their products. They center their company’s name around the virtues of hard work, grit, and perseverance. These are noble values to have. However, we must not fall for the trap of thinking that people who are poor are not working hard enough. So-called inspirational speakers love to say that it’s all in the head. That people are poor because they’re not passionate enough about their dreams. Well it’s bogus, and only people who are narcissistic enough would believe that. Focus on these’values’ implicitly undermines the pleas of the labor movement for higher wages. Graduates become dismissive of labor unions as too demanding because the graduate’s mindset is ‘Work hard, no matter how unfair the terms are because you’ll be rewarded in the end.’ Well, that’s not how corporations work.
Finally, there’s corporate environmentalism. Corporations have been increasingly active with their pro-environment propaganda, mainly in universities worldwide. They launch ‘idea-generating’ contests to make students think that they really care about the environment. But do they really or is it just another way of getting students’ intellectual property at a much lower price? Why do we trust the same companies who have polluted the planet to do the right thing now? It’s not just the product that should concern students, but the economic system itself. The current economic order requires excessive use of resources at the expense of other parts of our environment. We may soon be filled with renewable energy sources, but when you rely on an economic system based on massive profits for its execution, you’re bound to create more imbalance.
It’s important to acknowledge that assaults on the labor movement take different forms. Perhaps the most dangerous is that which targets its future members. As students, social awareness, healthy skepticism, and knowledge of our very own psychological vulnerabilities are enough to make a principled stand against corporate abuse. We must not contribute to the dismantling of an already fractured labor movement. UP organizations must not normalize sponsorships by companies with unethical practices towards the environment and the working class. It’s my hope that the administration itself would redesign the curriculum to highlight the history of the labor movement and how it’s been abused. The problem of economic inequality can never be solved if we keep producing future politicians and managers who think it’s fair for an executive to get millions of dollars while those in the manufacturing plant live paycheck-to-paycheck.