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Celebrating May Day, KMU Style

By Kim Scipes

08 October, 2015
Countercurrents.org

May Day in the Philippines is always a joyous day for the KMU (Kilusang Mayo Uno Labor Center). A national holiday, May Day[1] is celebrated with a number of marches of tens of thousands of Filipino workers and their supporters, assembling at different sites across the National Capital Region, and marching toward a common rally sitein Manila where a pro-labor program of speakers and cultural presentations always takes place, commemorating International Workers’ Day. (May Day marches and programs take place in different cities and key regions where the KMU is present across the country.) It is a day when the cops generally stay off the streets—defending only key sites like the Presidential Palace, Malacañang—while workers,their sound trucks and their wonderful puppetry assert their presence and project their messages to the country.

This writer—along with workers from Australia, China, Japan and the US—had traveled to celebrate May Day with the KMU this year (2015). The KMUis one of the most dynamic and developed labor centers in the world: it explicitly proclaims it is “militant, genuine and anti-imperialist.”[2]Kilusang Mayo Uno translates to “May First Movement,” and KMU leaders consciously relate this to the 1886 Haymarket “affair” in Chicago, so this was the 129th anniversary of International Workers’ Day.

The KMU is one of four different labor centers in the country.[3]In the Philippines, Labor is not unified.

In a program unique in the world that they call the International Solidarity Affair (ISA), the KMU invites workers and labor leaders from around the world to spend ten days with Filipino workers. The ISA includes both formal programs in Manila and sometimes in different cities across the country,[4]but the heart of the program is that visitors are then introduced to the day-to-day reality of Filipino workers: visitors go to picket lines, educational centers, production facilities and sometimes even stay in people’s homes, getting a first-hand look at their situations.Sometimes, visitors do this all in Manila, but it usually includes visitors getting out into the provinces, which are more rural and poor. The ISA consciously works to build global labor solidarity between Filipino workers and workers across the globe. Established in 1984, this year’s was the 31stannual International Solidarity Affair.

The ISA visitors assembled with the contingent at Santo Tomas University in the late morning. The day was hot—it would eventually reach 40 degrees Centigrade (about 112 degrees Fahrenheit). When we arrived, we were greeted by the sight of banners, flags, and thousands of workers, and the amplified words and music emanating from the sound trucks. A number of the international visitors spoke over the microphones to the workers, contributing to the excitement of the day. Although this writer had to travel by truck due to a leg injury—the best way to see Manila is through participating in a political march across the city—we led the march toward Liwasang Bonifacio (Plaza Bonifacio), which adjoins the Manila Central Post Office.

At Plaza Bonifacio—honoring the founder of the Katipunan, the revolutionary organization that had liberated all of the Philippines from the Spanish by 1898 except the walled city of Manila[5]—we were soon sounded by thousands of workers. Militant speeches were given by a number of labor leaders, interspersed with cultural presentations and singing. I was excited to find friends I had not seen in over 20 years, although I soon found out that Wenilou “Weng” Pradel—the labor leader who introduced me to the KMU in 1983—had died last year from cancer.

The ISA visitors had been asked to deliver a statement of solidarity to the rallyists, and we did. We had been at a construction site a few days earlier, where 11 construction workers had been killed in 2011, and the workers were on strike to obtain a collective bargaining agreement for their union. When our delegation saw the conditions under which these people had to work, we were appalled. So, we had written a solidarity statement, emphasizing the right of all workers to be safe at their place of employment, and calling for international standards to be developed that were as good as the most rigorous in the world and that had to be applied everywhere. Peter Bauer, a staff member of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, delivered it for us at the rally. (On May 13, 2015, a fire at a sandal-making factory in the Valenzuela district of Manila killed 72 workers who had been locked into their workplace to prevent theft.)

After all of the cultural presentations and speeches, we regrouped and marched off toward the Presidential Palace. Benigno S. “Noynoy” Aquino, the country’s current president and son of Corazon Aquino, the first president after Marcos was overthrown, is deeply unpopular, and is widely seen by militant labor as a puppet of the US; the KMU demands he resign after a raid instigated by the US against a “terrorist” in the South resulted in 34 people being killed.

Still riding in the lead truck, we arrived before the march at Mendiola. (The cops had closed the street to Malacañang, so the cultural group’s truck that was to serve as the platform for events at the Plaza, stopped and blocked traffic.) What I saw by arriving early was a typical afternoon on a Manila street corner: people hanging out; some people trying to sell stuff, especially food, to anyone who paused; others just passing by on their way to their particular destination, most clearly destitute, and everyone trying to survive the heat. Cars, bicycles, trucks, jeepneys, taxis, motorcycles all streaming past, horns honking, lights flashing and like everywhere in Manila, traffic lanes only suggestions as it is very usual to get five lanes of traffic into three delineated lanes. It was the “organized chaos” that is Manila, seven days a week, other than when a typhoon is approaching.

However, once the cultural group’s truck stopped and blocked traffic, the place came alive: people recognized that something was about to happen. They started looking out for what was going on.Attention became heightened. And, of course, looking out for the cops or military….

What they saw, marching under the light rail structure overhead, was a massive throng of KMU members and supporters gliding down the street, chants getting louder as the front of the march got closer to the intersection that is Mendiola. More flags, more loudspeakers, and how did those banners, saying “Noynoy Resign!” get posted upon on the overpasses? (Noynoy is the president’s nickname.) The marchers kept on coming, like an unstoppable tide, gliding around anything that got in its way.

By the time the marchers actually reached Mendiola, they formed a half-circle from the cultural group’s truck that had blocked traffic. Thousands filled the streets, completely blocking the intersection and by this time, it was getting dark. Speakers got up on the trucks—and yes, the loudspeakers worked.

Most poignantly was the family of Mary Jane Velasco. Mary Jane—as everyone referred to her—had been an OFW, Overseas Filipino Worker. The Philippine development process has failed ordinary Filipinos so badly that over 11 million have had to seek work in other countries, trying to survive and support their families, most in the Middle East, but one can find OFWs in probably most if not every country in the world. Over 6,000 Filipinos leave the Philippines every day, heading to their work assignments. Domestic workers are probably most vulnerable, being taken into people’s homes, but without speaking the local language, understanding the culture, or really having any real protection against sexual harassment, domestic violence or rape.

Mary Jane had been arrested in Indonesia for possession of heroin, and had been sentenced to death by firing squad. Understandably, her plight touched a nerve among people across the country, especially those poor and/or who had relatives and loved ones working overseas. Protests had taken place all over the country, demanding that the Philippine government intercede with Indonesia’s government, seeking a reprieve if not immediate release. (Our ISA delegation had marched with thousands in Makati, the center of the country’s business district, a few days previously, demanding her release.)

Early in the morning, a new development had saved her: a Filipino man had come forward, publicly admitting that he had set Mary Jane up with the heroin, of which she apparently she had no knowledge, and said that he was willing to testify on her behalf in Jakarta. She was taken off the execution list (the eight other men who had been on the list with her were shot that morning), her life spared.

Her family came and spoke to us in Mendiola. If I remember correctly, it was her sister that condemned Aquino’s government for refusing to help the family—he hadn’t even been willing to meet with them, even though the case was prominent in the media and of great concern to many Filipinos.Yet, after Mary Jane’s life was spared, the government had given the press a statement, claiming that it was its intervention that had saved her. The vitriol in the response was unmistakable.

(Mary Jane was not released; the last information that I had was that her lawyers had requested such, but no decision was to be made until after the man had formally testified in Jakarta. Of course, once he makes such a testimony, he most certainly will face trial and a death sentence upon conviction.)

As the speakers were railing against the government, its subservience to the United States government—the Filipinos always distinguish between the US government and the American people—and the elites in general, the striking puppet of President Aquino was pushed through the crowd. All of the sudden, torches were lit and before long, the effigy was torched, and, over a few minutes, was eventually consumed in fire and smoke. Cultural workers ran in circles around the puppet, carrying torches in the night, concentrating public energy on the burning symbol. It was a fitting finale to a wonderful day.
---
The May Day celebration was just one part—the most joyous part—of the KMU’s International Solidarity Affair (ISA). Yet the ISA is much more than just celebration: it is an effort to communicate the situation of workers in the Philippines, and to convey how the KMU is fighting to make life better for the masses of people in the country. As far as I can determine, there is no other program like it in the world.

I have been visiting the Philippines and researching the KMU since 1986, although my last previous visit (of six) was in 1994. I returned in 2015 to see how the KMU had developed/not developed over the subsequent 21 years. This account is about the ISA itself—trying to give impressions of this exemplary program—and although I also visited banana, palm oil and sugarworkers, as well as indigenous peoples (Lumads), in rural areas of Mindanao and Negros after the ISA, those observations will be reported in other articles.

KMU is a labor center with eight affiliated federations—similar to national or international unions in North America—that organize workers across the country, although it is varies in strength in different regions. KMU played a key role in overthrowing the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, and continues to play a leading role in resisting the Philippine State, and especially its military, since then.

(For those who know about the Philippines, they are aware that a militant Communist Party of the Philippines or CPP has been fighting the state since 1969. The CPP is stronger in some areas than in others. The CPP operates underground as well as clandestinely in above-ground, legal organizations. Its influence among the left is substantial, and it has provided ideological leadership for a group of organizations collectively referred to as “National Democrats” or NDs. However, despite arguments to the contrary, my research over a number of years has shown that the KMU, while self-consciously a ND organization, is not controlled by the CPP, but is controlled by its own members.)

The problems faced by Filipino workers are many: somewhere between 80-90 percent of all workers are contractual, not regular; there is mass unemployment and underemployment; wages are insufficient to support a family; poverty is ever-present; many workers work 12-16 hour days; workers have few rights, and only those they can force management to observe; militarization is extensive and harassment of labor activists is ever-present (such as charging labor activists with criminal activities, including murder, which is non-bailable, and which can incarcerate labor leaders for years). As noted above when writing about the case of Mary Jane Velasco, things are so bad that over 11 million workers have migrated overseas to work—mostly in the Gulf States, but Filipino workers can be found almost everywhere—and 6,000 Filipino workers migrate for work every day.

These are the problems that KMU leaders want overseas visitors to understand—and that the KMU continues to fight to overcome. (This May Day was the 35th anniversary of the founding of KMU, which was launched on May 1, 1980, under the repression of Ferdinand Marcos.)

The ISA began with a modest formal introduction to the situation across the country. Meeting in a Quezon City restaurant, we heard from speakers from Southern Mindanao, the Caraga Valley (in central Mindanao, but on the eastern side of the island), the Visayas (including speakers from Ilo Ilo City on Panay, and Cebu City on Cebu), and from Bicol, a region at the very southern tip of Luzon Island. The stories we heard we consistent: trade union repression, militarism and neo-liberalism. Inadequate minimum wage: 268 pesos a day in Caraga, when a “basic needs food basket” required P1,210. (One US dollar would buy about 45 pesos.) Rice is P57 per kilo, and you need 1-½ kilos for one meal with a family of six (the typical size).

In Cebu, they specifically discussed a garment factory with 30,000 workers—Sports City International—and 90 percent were women. (There are no unions in any of the 11 export processing zones in Cebu.) This is owned by a Chinese national, and they produce for Adidas, North Face and Reebok. Workers there face a 3-5 day unpaid suspension if they are one minute late, or if more than one minute late from a five minute bathroom break! If they accumulate 35 demerit points in two years, they are terminated. Last year, 30 workers were terminated, and three had worked there for over 35 years. The workers work under a quota system, and the “duty free” system was explained: in one work shift, each line of workers was required to produce 700 pieces per day; if they don’t reach their quota, they have to punch out, and then go back to make their quota: the workers call this working over time without pay “duty free.”
In Bicol, problems are militarization, low salaries, and few benefits. Minimum wage is P 260 for eight hours (approximately $6). Eighty percent of workers are casuals, with no seniority of tenure.

The Secretary General of the KMU, Roger ­­­Soluta, pulled things together for us. The regime follows neo-liberal economic policies, when profit maximization is the only thing valued. The military is being used not to defend the people of the country, but as part of the counter-insurgency program of the government. According to Soluta,their goal is to neutralize progressive organizations, suppress democratic rights of people and workers. Military is an instrument to repress workers. He continues,

Military vilifies organizations and leaders—black propaganda, linking activists to revolutionary organizations. Once easily linked to Communist front or linked with New People’s Army, then set people up for assassination. So many leaders of progressive organizations are in jail: four national KMU leaders are facing criminal charges, including murder, which is a not a bailable offense.

Depression of wages: workers are paid differently in different regions, each far below family living wage (wages to live decently). IBON [an independent non-governmental organization-KS] says that a family of six requires about 1,088 pesos/day ($23.73/day) to meet basic needs; minimum daily wage in National Capital Region (Metro Manila) is P 481 ($10.68), Bicol is P 260 ($5.95), and Cebu P 340 ($7.55).

Massive unemployment: according to IBON, 4.3 million workers are unemployed, and over seven million underemployed, so over 11.3 million workers are looking for good jobs.

What does the government get out of foreign corporations? They defend foreign direct investment to help develop country. Three decades of neo-liberalism has not worked: the economy is still very backward. Country is selling cheap labor, through economic zones (protection from unions), tax relief, tax holiday. Multinational corporations are making incredible profits. Government’s economic policy is to sell cheap. Aquino regime is subservient to interest of monopoly capitalists, not the interests of the Filipino people.

He continued, telling us about the changes in work in the country: “Over one million Filipinos work in call centers. Top exports are in electronics. Today, electronics, agricultural plantations and call centers are major sites of employment.”

After our formal welcome, we later traveled to a construction site. We talked with the workers who were on strike, trying to win a collective bargaining agreement under the National Federation of Workers Unions, a KMU affiliate. This was the site where 11 workers had been killed in 2011, and where the conditions were so bad that the ISA visitors spoke about it on May Day.

The KMU wants visitors to get a good sense of what’s going on with Filipino workers, so they took us around to a number of locations, rallies, and picket lines. We joined the rally for Mary Jane Velasco in Makati (the financial district of Manila), traveled to Cavite (south of Manila) to get updated on negotiations at Coca-Cola, and visited the Long Ho Company picket line in the Valenzuela district of Manila.

The Long Ho picket line was very illuminating. This was a company that did hand-sorting to recover recyclable materials for resale, especially plastics. (Remember, they work in the tropical sun.) The owner had been paying the workers between P 260-315/day, when the minimum wage was P 481. They worked 12-hour days, with no overtime. The owner locked out the 139-member workforce, so the workers struck. Four families had moved onto the picket line. However, with families living on site, the owner was unable to remove his equipment, as those on site would spread the alarm to people and workers in the community, who would mobilize to block any extraction of equipment and materials.

After joining May Day festivities, we went to Southern Tagalog on May 2nd. Southern Tagalog is the region generally south of Metro Manila. Much of industry has relocated out of the NCR, with most of it ending up in Southern Tagalog.

The KMU regional alliance in Southern Tagalog is PAMANTIK. The formal name is Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katogalugan, which translates to Solidarity of Workers in Southern Tagalog.[6]

One of the innovations of the KMU is development of “alliances,” of which there are three types: regional, industrial and conglomerate. A regional alliance—developed initially in June 1982 by young Filipino women workers who launched the first general strike in any export processing zone in the world in the Bataan Export Processing Zone—includes all KMU unions in a particular geographical area, regardless of the federation to which they belong, and they sometimes expand to include competing, non-KMU unions. The purpose is to enhance education of workers, and build solidarity so as to protect each other should the military intervene to break strikes, arrest picketers, etc. Industrial alliances are made up of unions in the same industry—such as health care or mining—while conglomerate alliances are those that work in businesses owned by the same corporation, say Coca-Cola. PAMANTIK is the KMU regional alliance in Southern Tagalog.

We traveled to Cubuyao, in Laguna Province, which is the headquarters of PAMANTIK. We were introduced to some of their leaders and staff members, who told us about the different struggles going on in the region. PAMANTIK covers the CALABARZON region, which includes the provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal and Quezon, which is actually only one part ofthe Southern Tagalog region.

PAMANTIK is the KMU of CALABARZON. It is densely organized. They have a general congress every three years, with the last one taking place in 2014, where work is reviewed, plans to move forward are made, and officers elected for the upcoming term.

The key KMU federation in CALABARZON is OLALIA (Organized Labor and Line Organizations in Agriculture), and it has both affiliated local unions as well as independent local unions that work with it. Started in 1986 with just 10 affiliated unions, OLALIA had over 70 local unions affiliated by 2000; today, they have 3,000 members in 13 directly affiliated unions. They file legal cases against labor right violations, illegal dismissal, retrenchment, and work to support all local unions in CBA negotiations, grievances and in organizing unions. OLALIA has long been attacked by government agencies: arguing that it is a “front” for the Communist Party of the Philippines, its leaders were charged in a criminal case by the Armed Forces of the Philippines in 2003, and the case continues today. Union leaders told me that military intelligence monitors unions, and the military units episodically harass unions.

OLALIA has general congresses every five years, with the next one in 2016, where they will again elect officers. Their officers are all full-time organizers, and they have one part-time “official,” and they each come out of OLALIA-organized factories.

There are other organizations operating in Southern Tagalog. NAFLU (National Federation of Labor Unions, another KMU federation) has a growing presence in the region, but it also works with OLALIA. There are a number of sectoral organizations—such as STARTER (the regional transportation organization), the KMK (women workers’ organization), community organizations, farm workers and youth organizations—that are part of PAMANTIK. There are also labor alliancesthat are part of PAMANTIK, such as LIGA (contractual workers’ organization), a garment and textile workers’ alliance, and a food and drug alliance. PAMANTIK brings all organizations together monthly.

We were informed of a number of struggles taking place: one was as Segara Metropolitan. This gives some idea of the difficulty facing unions in the Philippines, but it also illustrates labor activists’ determination to win.

Segara Metropolitan has been in Laguna Province for 25 years, making plastic parts for cars. It has 248 regular and 235 contracted workers. The union there was “yellow” [it collaborated with management-KS]. After 15 years, workers tried to organize a genuine union, one that would fight for the workers. The yellow union was called National Mines and Allied Workers or NAMAWA. In the 2009 CBA negotiations, a Notice of Strike was filed, but did not materialize. On May 27, 2014, workers disaffiliated from NAMAWA. In June 2014, the workers registered as an independent union. They filed a petition for a certification election to determine who would represent them in upcoming CBA negotiations; NAMAWU appealed. The Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) cancelled the certification election, even though the Bureau of Labor Relations twice affirmed the necessity of a certification election. On April 8, 2015, at 7 am, the election officer stated that there would not be a certification held: they had been told by the Office of the President of the Philippines not to proceed. Supposedly, a certification election would affect the economy of the Philippines! They were given 90 days to appeal, and a decision is due within 20 days after the filing.

So far, the workers have had nine mobilizations against DOLE-Southern Tagalog. They filed a graft-related case, arguing that the Director of the Bureau of Labor Relations doesn’t have the authority to cancel a certification election. And the struggle has been very costly so far: over P 150,000.

Starting in 2013, PAMANTIK started organizing the contractual workers at Segara. In one year, about 75 percent were educated about their rights. Workers were given fliers about the union and the struggle secretly. Regular and contractual workers mobilized together on May 1, 2015.

Key to organizing in the Philippines is educating workers; in this writer’s opinion, it is the key that has enabled the KMU to survive over 35 years. In Southern Tagalog, there is an independent non-governmental organization named LEADER (Labor Education, Advocacy, Development, Responsive Services, Inc.) that works with PAMANTIK to provide worker education. I got to spend an evening and the next morning learning about LEADER’s ideas about education.

Southern Tagalog is an industrial belt. Factories are producing semi-conductors/electronics, and all kinds of industries including food processing, cement and cars, and they have Honda and Toyota assembly plants. The companies are very anti-union.

A big problem is illegal closure of factories. According to Philippine law, a factory must show three years of losses before it closes, but it is rarely enforced. On February 21, 2014, Carina Apparel in Laguna displaced 3,000 workers, despite not having three years of losses. Kahlin, a Japanese firm, closed after having a CBA for three years; the union said it had made P 100 million in profit before departing for Indonesia.

LEADER is a key educational resource, because it teaches workers their basic rights. Last two years, they have been “gaining a lot” as more and more workers are approaching them, asking for education. This is in addition to their contact building and education programs; they know they must travel into the community instead of just waiting at the office.

Central to their educational work, whether held in the office or in the community, is what they call the “basic course.” This is an in-depth discussion of “the Financial Crisis and Social System.” The course focuses on how capitalism started, the US Financial Crisis and how it affects the Philippine economy, and the direct impact upon workers.

Yet, LEADER staff recognize that creating genuine trade unions is not enough to change the worker/capitalist relationship. As they told me, “Genuine change needs to look for an alternative socialist perspective.” While that has yet to be defined, they are seeking to learn from previous socialist thinkers, although they seem to be unaware of current efforts in Latin America (especially in Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela),[7] as well as Gramsci’s work.

However, what really impressed me was the aggressive approach to organizing workers and people in the community taken by PAMANTIK and its member organizations. Not only did they recognize the need to organize and then consolidate members through education programs, but they actively sought to organize workers and community members in any way they thought could help them build power.

This includes establishing education committees in each local union/association, and these committees sponsor regular trade union education, hold education festivals, support individual efforts to initiate union discussions, and monitor the courses the workers have taken. They have found these education committees to be very effective, not just on labor issues, but on national issues as well; they have found out that those with more education become more active.

This is important, because under Philippine law, only “regular” employees can join unions. They have established a number of different organizations to help accomplish this task.

They have recently revived the KMK, women workers’ organization, in the region so as to focus more on women workers. KMK officers work in the factories. Last march, they had the first assembly of KMK in the region, where women from many factories were represented by the 60-70 women leaders who attended. KMK membership is open to women in KMU-federated unions, independent unions and to women who are not in unions.[8]

PANMATIK organizers have built other organizations as well. They have created KAMIT (Unity of Illegally Dismissed Workers), LIGA (League of Workers for Regular Employment), as well as CAR-AID (Coalition of Auto-related Industrialization-Against Imperialist Domination), which are each organizations intended to raise wages and fight for rights of workers, even if they are not members of unions. They’ve also helped establish a National Coalition for the Protection of Workers, and Luz Fortuna—widow of the slain President of United Filpro Employees (Nestle), Diosdado “Ding” Fortuna—is Coordinator. These organizations are in addition to the regional transportation alliance, STARTER, youth and farm worker organizations, as well as ACT (Alliance of Concerned Teachers), UHW (United Healthcare Workers) and COURAGE, which is the militant government workers alliance.

Where this aggressive organizing can be seen is in the results of the “outside” Coca-Cola workers’ strike in Santa Rosa in 2013. The “inside” workers were organized by a yellow union, but it didn’t include forklift operators, “pickers” nor drivers, and the yellow union did not fight for their inclusion. PAMANTIK’s activists organized, educated and consolidated these “outside” workers into an association to push the company to negotiate with them. When the company refused, these workers went on strike for three days, costing the company “millions” by paralyzing distribution. The Memorandum of Understanding that resulted regularized these workers, making them eligible for union membership in every Coke bottling facility across the Philippines. Now these trade unionists plan to take over the yellow unions of which they are now part, and transform them into genuine unions.

This aggressive organizing can also be seen in the struggle by the NXP workers. On May 4, 2014, 24 officers of the NXP Workers Union were dismissed by the company during CBA negotiations. Management claimed workers had engaged in an illegal work stoppage. NXP workers built solidarity in the region, the country and globally: on September 11, 2014, management signed a Memorandum of Agreement, reinstating 12 of the dismissed union officers, and paid a reasonable severance payment to the other 12, which included the union president.

The following day, the ISA visitors returned to Quezon City, to share and summarize their experiences, and to get ready to travel to their homelands. It had been an extremely provocative ten days with the KMU.

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Through this discussion, it is hoped that readers get a sense of not only how KMU celebrates May Day, but the broader importance of the International Solidarity Affair. It builds global labor solidarity by inviting workers and labor leaders to travel to the Philippines, to see and try to understand the reality faced by militant Filipino workers and their organizations. However, because of the interactive process—where visitors go to picket lines, rallies, educational facilities and talk with Filipino workers—it both conveys the concern of outsiders and allows Filipino workers to hear about outside struggles as well, while telling outsiders about struggles in the Philippines. This is a mutual, upward spiral in building mutual understanding, respect and solidarity.
This is an outstanding program, and should be emulated by labor centers around the world. Hopefully, the KMU will return the previous emphasis to it (see Scipes, 2000), and invite sister unions from around the world to send members to participate.

But for North American labor activists (and activists elsewhere), I encourage each of you to organize a delegation to the ISA from your union/organization. Yes, it is costly—$550 in 2015, plus you pay your own round trip air fare—but it includes housing, transportation, food, and guides for 10 days, so it really is not that expensive in country. There is a lot that can be learned from KMU, and I guarantee you that you will never look at trade unionism again in the same way as before you go.


For more information about the KMU, please check out its web site—with writings in both Tagalog and English—at www.kilusangmayouno.org. People are encouraged to inquire about and attend the annual International Solidarity Affair: e-mail the KMU International Department at kmu.intl@gmail.com.

Kim Scipes is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Purdue University North Central in Westville, Indiana, USA, a long-time labor activist and former elected labor leader. He has been working for over 30 years to build global labor solidarity, and currently has a collection of writings that he edited, Building Global Labor Solidarity in a Time of Accelerating Globalization, in press; it will be published in Spring 2016. In addition to his book on the KMU, Scipes is the author of AFL-CIO’s Secret War against Developing Country Workers: Solidarity or Sabotage? (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2010 hardback, 2011 paperback).

[1] May Day obviously is not celebrated in the United States, although as International Workers’ Day, is celebrated is a national holiday in most countries around the world. (Richard Nixon proclaimed May Day to be Law Day, USA during his presidency.) It wasn’t until 2004 (if I remember correctly) that the Illinois Labor History Society was able to dedicate a memorial statue to the Haymarket Martyrs. To date, in a city that has signs for damn near anything, there are no signs directing people to the memorial, and most people in the Chicago region have no idea of events that took place there in 1886. Workers have traveled from countries around the world from places like Colombia, Iraq and Japan to present plaques commemorating the Martyrs, and these have been bolted on to the memorial. (The memorial is on north Des Plaines Street (west of the Dan Ryan expressway), just north of Randolph Street, on the east side of Des Plaines.)

[2] See Kim Scipes, KMU: Building Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines, 1980-1994 (Quezon City, Metro Manila: New Day Publishers, 1996) for the only a nation-wide study of KMU. Important published articles by this author on KMU and the Philippines include “Review of the Month: Global Economic Crisis, Neoliberal Solutions and the Philippines” (Monthly Review, December 1999: 1-14 (on-line at http://monthlyreview.org/1999/12/01/global-economic-crisis-neoliberal-solutions-and-the-philippines/); “Communicating Labor Internationalism: The KMU’s International Solidarity Affair,” January 2000 (on-line at www.antenna.nl/~waterman/scipes.html); and “Building Global Labor Solidarity Today: Learning from the KMU of the Philippines,” Class, Race and Corporate Power, Vol. 2, No. 2, July 2014 (on-line at http://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/classracecorporatepower/vol2/iss2/2).


The KMU has served as the basis for my thinking on the concept of “social movement unionism.” For my latest thinking on it, see “Social Movement Unionism or Social Justice Unionism? Disentangling Theoretical Confusion within the Global Labor Movement.” Class, Race and Corporate Power. Vol. 2: Iss. 3, Article 9 (November 2014).On-line at http://digitalcommons.fiu.edu/classracecorporatepower/vol2/iss3/9.All on-line articles were accessed on August 23, 2015.

[3] Organizationally, the heart of a labor movement are trade unions and agglomerations of trade unions that are joined by a labor center which, in turn, works to further unify and strengthen the member unions. The number of labor centers vary by country: some countries—such as Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States have one labor center; others—such as Brazil, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, South Africa, South Korea and Sweden—each have at least two different labor centers, if not more. In the US context, but using international labor terminology, the AFL-CIO is a “labor center.”

[4] I had celebrated May Day with workers in Davao City, on the big southern island of Mindanao, in 1990.

[5] While most Americans have learned at least something (albeit in distorted form) about the US efforts in Cuba to help liberate that country from the Spanish during the Spanish-American War, we are taught nothing about the US-Philippine war. President McKinley has dispatched the iron-hulled ships of the US Navy that were in Hong Kong to attack the Spanish “fleet” at anchor in Manila Bay. (The Spanish fleet was built of wood, decrepit, and probably could not have sailed even on a calm day.) The Navy won a “glorious victory,” and Admiral Dewey gave the Spanish commander of Manila the choice of surrendering to the Filipinos or to him; not being a dummy, the commander went with door #2. The American put troops into Manila, who kept expanding their lines into the countryside, and on February 4, 1899, the Filipinos fought back. The war was extremely brutal—including the use of water boarding, poisoning of wells, free fire zones, starvation, etc.—and eventually between 1899 and 1903, the US killed between 500,000-1 million Filipinos, approximately 10-20% of the entire population (men, women and children) of 5 million.

[6] For an excellent discussion of the origins of worker organizing in CALABARZON and early efforts, see Steve McKay, “The Squeaky Wheel’s Dilemma: New Forms of Labor Organizing in the Philippines” in Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 30, No. 4, Winter 2006: 41-63. For some reason, McKay didn’t identify the “national labor center” he discusses as the KMU, which it clearly was.

[7] For an excellent collection of essays on current developments in these three countries, see Steve Ellner, editor, Latin America’s Radical Left: Challenges and Complexities of Political Power in the Twenty-first Century (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014). See also We Created Chavez: A People’s History of the Venezuelan Revolution by George Ciccariello-Maher (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013). My review of both, published by New Politics, is on-line at http://newpol.org/content/somethings-happening-latin-america-review-essay.

[8] There is considerable discussion of considerable discussion of women workers in my book (Scipes, 1996); see especially chapter three, “Women Workers in the KMU.” For a specific interview with the then-Secretary General of the KMK, see my May 1990 piece in Z Magazine, “Interview with Cleofe Zapanta.” Lois West has considerable information on women workers in her 1997 book, Militant Labor in the Philippines (Philadelphia: Temple University Press).

 

 




 

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