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Where To Begin: Labour Organizing Through Impact Films

Cover image of Rider’s Watch, one of the transmedia activities organized by Kat Catalan and their video collective Mayday Multimedia

Guest post by Aly Suico

As a young labour rights advocate and filmmaker in the Philippines, using film for advocacy has been Kat’s interest since college. Kat, who uses they/them pronouns, graduated from the University of the Philippines Film Institute and joined independent productions and local film festivals in their student days. In 2020, they won 3rd Place in the Documentary Category of Gawad CCP Para sa Alternatibong Pelikula at Video for the short animated film, Still Here, Still Walking. Kat currently works as a freelance video editor and animator and is a member of the media institution Mayday Multimedia, a community media outfit focusing on workers’ issues.

Kat looks back and shares some of their breakthroughs as their team journeyed through the production and impact campaign of On Our Own Time, a film made through EngageMedia’s Tech Tales Youth film collection and mentorship program.

On stepping into new terrain

With the proliferation of precarious work in the gig economy, organising in digital labour is long overdue. The idea of campaigning for digital labour daunted Kat, with how fast technology develops and, along with it, labour policies that favour big companies. However, as a freelancer, Kat understood the urgent task of starting the work within the line of platform workers. Kat saw that the best place to start was with the platform riders who are constantly on their mobile devices.

With their labour advocacy work at Mayday Multimedia, Kat and their collective constantly update themselves on the trade union situation in the Philippines. Their work relies heavily on collaboration with labour organizations, trade union centers, unions, and workers’ associations, providing media support through their programs and services. 

Mayday has encountered and documented some digital labour issues, particularly those involving couriers and delivery riders and cyclists, since the pandemic. But they have yet to fully immerse and connect their programs and services with these riders. The Tech Tales Youth program played a crucial role in helping Kat and their media collective connect with platform riders through impact production. From the beginning, they realised that impact production shared many similarities with grassroots work. They understood that the campaign’s impact would require a long-term strategy and commitment, carried out at an intentional pace. The pace would be defined by the readiness of the workers, as well as the groundwork laid in organizing and partnerships with labour organizers. 

On building trust

Poster of the Tech Tales Youth film On Our Own Time

Hearing the platform riders talk about the ins and outs of the delivery apps they work for, how they navigate social media platforms to pick up tips and tricks from one another, and how they find ways to entertain through motovlogs and action cameras astounded Kat. These were things that people only really find out if they take the time to get to know the workers’ lives and struggle beyond social media posts. Kat figured in these elements in On Our Own Time, because they needed to understand the riders better through an audio-visual medium, both as an audience and as a collaborator for the film.

After the impact screenings, Kat could immediately see the next steps forward. Many riders working for other platforms expressed a desire for a short film about their experiences, similar to “On Our Own Time.” Given the challenging labour organizing situation in the Philippines, this demonstration of support from the workers showed Kat how powerful film can be in inspiring workers to speak up about their working conditions.

Mayday Multimedia, Kat Catalan’s co-producer, published a zine on Basic Labor Rights of Platform Workers

The labour conditions of platform workers are systematically kept under the rug, hidden from the public eye by app-based companies. Through the production process, Kat and their team became aware of the risks and security measures they had to take when exposing labour conditions through the riders’ first-hand accounts, which could put the riders at risk of getting suspended or banned. The production team emphasized this to the riders upon securing consent to be part of the film.

Some of the more determined riders were not as worried about potential repercussions. Pushed by the lack of regular job opportunities, these riders found ways to one-up these platforms, from juggling several app companies at the same time to building online support groups with fellow riders. For these workers, there wasn’t much to lose because they were already at a disadvantage when the app companies reduced their pay and benefits. This experience taught Kat to trust the riders’ willingness to stand up for their rights against companies with legal teams and to believe in the worker’s movement’s ability to support the riders’ fight. Kat ensured that the riders understood how the film would serve their interests and aspirations for better working conditions by helping raise awareness and encourage discussions among riders, consolidating their grievances to find solutions collectively.

This kind of trust was important to build between the platform riders and the film team so that by the end of the process, the riders could feel ownership over the film they helped create. The shared ownership of the film also resonated with Kat as they stepped out of their learned ‘auteur’ practice in filmmaking from film school and allowed a collective process in producing On Our Own Time. Kat learned that allowing interests beyond that of just the director produce a more socially valuable work that surpasses any fear of criticism they might have felt in the process.

Sine Obrero (Cine Labour) became a platform to distribute the film and directly engage with platform riders.

On impact as collective work

Kat Catalan, director of On Our Own Time, faciltates the discussion after the screening of the film.

Witnessing the workers’ excitement at seeing themselves and their daily struggles front and center in a short film was one of the highlights for Kat in the roll out of the impact distribution campaign for On Our Own Time.

Kat and their team designed the campaign in phases. They organised build-up screenings leading to a main impact activity that would bring together the platform riders they met during the screenings, along with partner organisations. The goal was to help solidify the riders’ own campaigns. They realised that establishing strong relationships with on-ground partner organisations and the riders themselves was crucial for the campaign’ success. Through Mayday Multimedia’s screening program, Sine Obrero, Kat and the film team organised four intimate community screenings with an average of 20 audience members composed of riders, young students, and rights advocates. The objective of the screenings was to bring out the stories and experiences of the riders and, together with the advocates, collaborate on campaigns for better working conditions. Some riders even brought papers and documents to the screening hoping to consult about issues they currently face at work.

During the project, Kat faced a significant challenge when trying to bring together two other advocacy groups that support workers’ rights in different ways: Defend Jobs Philippines, which focuses on grassroots organising, and Gabriela Women’s Party, which engages in policy lobbying. Each group had its methods for launching campaigns, making it easy to become overwhelmed and pulled in different directions. To address this, Kat worked with each group to ensure they understood the objectives of the Tech Tales Youth impact campaign and collaborated on a design that would help achieve the goals of all partner organisations. This collaborative approach allowed each group to learn from one another and identify new ways to support workers’ struggles. In particular, the impact campaign creatively used film as a way to start conversations between workers and advocates.

Through this partnership, the final impact screening of On Our Own Time held on April 19, 2024, brought together Congresswoman Arlene Brosas, a women’s partylist representative (Gabriela Women’s Party) in the Philippine House of Representatives and leaders of various platform riders groups through Defend Jobs Philippines. They watched the film and began a rich discussion on the situation of platform workers. The conversation brought up many conflicting experiences and perspectives, even among the platform workers, which for Kat was an important sign for the campaign as it meant so much ground had not yet been touched. Brosas introduced efforts to come up with a Magna Carta for Platform Workers, making the discussion a wellspring of stories and information needed to strengthen the call for a Magna Carta and begin efforts to build resolutions they could forward in Congress.

Congresswoman Arlene Brosas of Gabriela Women’s Party
Representatives of platform riders’ associations during the dialogue for the Magna Carta of Platform Workers

Beyond the screenings, Kat and the film team aim to reach even more riders. With this objective in mind, they came up with an online platform and on-ground materials to complement the screening activities. Riders Watch is an online platform that shares the impact campaign and other relevant information with workers via the Facebook page and with young students, artists, and professionals as labour advocates through the Instagram account. On the ground, they also produced a zine on basic labour rights for platform workers that is easy to distribute and reproduce, so that even beyond the impact campaign team, partners, and even the riders themselves could use the zine for their activities.

On small victories

After the impact screenings, Kat could immediately see the next steps forward. Many riders working for other platforms expressed their desire for a short film about their experiences, similar to On Our Own Time. Given the challenging labour organising situation in the Philippines, this demonstration of support from the workers showed Kat how powerful film can be in inspiring workers to speak up about their working conditions. Through impact campaigns, it can help them move beyond complaints and take concrete action. In events organised by other labour and rights organisations, Kat saw some of the riders they connected with through the impact campaign participate as resource speakers and workshop participants. Last April 27, one rider was tapped to talk about the experiences of riders under the context of the extreme heat the country was facing at the time. 

On April 28, in commemoration of Workers’ Memorial Day, Kat contacted three platform riders to participate in a workshop forum on Occupational Health and Safety. The riders were able to share their grievances with other workers in different sectors such as construction, chemicals, and garments. One was also able to confront a representative from the government agency on Occupational Health and Safety, expressing his need for the government to recognise platform workers as workers because they still are not covered by the country’s labour code as regular workers due to the nature of their relationship with the app-based companies.

Screening of On Our Own Time and other films produced by Kat Catalan and their video collective in Northern Luzon, Philippines during the commemoration of Labour Day last May 1, 2024.

Kat and their collective gained many new lessons and experiences through the Tech Tales Youth program. They carry these lessons with them as they continue the impact campaign of On Our Own Time, implement other film projects, and reach more groups of workers.

In bringing together film and labour organizing, Kat recommends the following:

  • Motovlogs of platform riders on social media or any social media content made by workers
  • Films with heavy dialogue, such as 12 Angry Men (dir. Sidney Lumet, 1957) and Women Talking (dir. Sarah Polley, 2022)
  • Films on the worker’s struggle and workers’ organizing like Norma Rae (dir. Martin Ritt, 1979) and Sa Ngalan ng Tubo (Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research, Focus Central Luzon, Peasant Alliance of Central Luzon, Farmers Association of Central Luzon, Tudla Productions and Mayday Multimedia, 2005)
  • Films on platform work like Sorry We Missed You (dir. Ken Loach, 2019), and Peon (Dir. June Wong, Shaiful Yahya, Syaz Zainal, 2021)

See Kat’s Video4Change Impact Campaign Builder below: