Peter Waterman’s Recent Attack On The KMU Of The Philippines, And My Work, Is Scurrilous:
Kim Scipes Responds To Unprincipled And Inaccurate Attack
By Kim Scipes
12 November, 2015
For reasons unknown and certainly not obvious, Peter Waterman has attacked my recent account published by Countercurrents.org on my visit to and participation in the KMU Labor Center’s 31st Annual International Solidarity Affair in the Philippines. (His article is on-line at www.countercurrents.org/waterman021115.htm, while mine is on-line at www.countercurrents.org/scipes081015.htm.) Waterman and I have been personal friends for over 30 years, although we’ve long disagreed vehemently over the KMU and whether it is controlled by the Communist Party of the Philippines (Waterman’s position) or its members (mine).
While the KMU can certainly defend itself and its record over the past 35 years—should it choose to respond to Waterman’s attack—the attack by Waterman against me is so scurrilous, so unprincipled, that I feel obligated to respond simply because I don’t want anyone to think that Waterman’s views areaccepted or unchallenged.
I do want to clearly state that this response is not to being challenged: I’ve long sought honest differences with my findings and analyses, as I recognize my limitations in reporting on the KMU. The response is to being challenged unfairly, at best, and being lied about, at worst.
Waterman somehow fails to acknowledge some facts immediately relevant, which distorts his entire argument:
• He writes as though my 2015 trip was my first time in the Philippines, when it was my seventh trip since 1986;
• He conveniently fails to note that I published a 316 page book in 1996 on the KMU titled KMU: Building Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines, 1980-1994, which is the only nationwide study of the KMU published to date; and
• He does not report the fact that I personally handed him a copy of my book in December 1997 while visiting him in The Hague, and which he has never bothered to read.
As stated above—something Waterman specifically did not note—I am a long-time researcher of the KMU. Starting in January 1986—the month before Marcos’ “snap election” which ultimately caused him to flee the country—I made six trips to the Philippines between 1986 and 1994: my April-May 2015 trip was an effort to update my understanding of how the KMU had developed/not developed since 1994.
I have traveled throughout much of the country—by airplane, bus, boat, jeepney, motorcycle, and even on a “tricycle with wings”—and I have traveled alone and with guides. I have visited Luzon (the big northern island), traveling as far north as Baguio, to the Bataan Export Processing Zone (BEPZ) in Mariveles, and Olongapo City on the western side of the island,throughout the National Capital Region around Manila; the Southern Tagalog Region south of Manila; and as far south as the Bicol region. In the middle of the country (the Visayas region), I have traveled across the northern end of Negros Island from Bacolod City to Escalante, and I’ve traveledacross the northern end and down the eastern side of Cebu Island to Cebu City and Mandaue City. And I’ve traveled across the big southern island of Mindanao from Davao City in the south to Iligan City and Cagayan del Oro on the north coast, traveled around the Davao City region, and have traveled to the Compastella Valley and to Butuan City on the central-eastern side of the island. Most notably, I’ve visited BEPZ five times; and Mindanao and Negros each four times. I have gone into areas where very few outsiders have ever gone into. I have also gone into areas where death squads have been active, and areas where army units have been actively patrolling.
I have completed over 120 hours of formal interviews that were taped, and which I transcribed myself; these are in addition to the many hours I’ve talked with people informally. These interviews, by the way, include members of the KMU (including top level officers, as well as union officers across the country), supporters of the KMU—including Bishop Antonio Y. Fortich of the Catholic Church on Negros—as well as opponents of the KMU.I have sat in union meetings, spent nights alone with members on picket lines, got smuggled into the Bataan Export Processing Zone and visited women workers on strike there, stayed in KMU members’ houses, and even swam (on my 2015 trip) with KMU members in a crystalline-clear river on Negros.This all in the effort to understand how the KMU could have built one of the most dynamic and developed labor organizations in the world, starting under a dictator.
For some reason, Waterman doesn’t mention my research.
Nor, for some reason, does he mention that I’ve published 19 articles on the KMU and/or the Philippine development process, and that these articles have appeared in journals and web sites in India (my article on Countercurrents.org), that he’s included an article of mine on his own web site in The Netherlands for years, and that my articles have appeared in at least three different publications in the Philippines, in the United Kingdom, and several in the United States, as well as one article was republished in a journal in South Africa.
Nor, again for some reason, he doesn’t mention my book, KMU: Building Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines, 1980-1994, which was published in 1996 by New Day Publishers in the Philippines. (Nor does he mention this is the only nation-wide study done on the KMU to date.) While ignoring my book, he mentions Lois West’s 1997 book, Militant Labor in the Philippines, which focuses on Manila and Olongapo, the latter of which has never been a key site of KMU operations, and West’s book is definitely not a nation-wide study.
My book examined production relations in both colonial and post-colonial production systems: plantation sugar cane in Negros; extractive copper mining on Cebu; capitalist agriculture on Mindanao; and non-traditional garment production in Bataan. It examined how labor unions were organized and labor movements created in each of these different political-economic regions, and how they joined together nationally to create the KMU in 1980. It also specifically examined the KMK (women workers’ national alliance), and women’s leadership in specific unions and national federations.
Not only did Waterman fail to note my book, but for some reason, he never mentioned that I had personally handed a copy of my book to him in late 1997 in The Hague, which by all indications he has never bothered to read. In one place, he referred to something in the front section of the book, but he’s never said anything about nor written anything from the rest of the book. He has never denied my allegation that he’s never read nor considered the evidence presented in my book.
His experience in the Philippines, as he admits, is quite limited: he visited once in 1989. He spent a month in the country, with most of the time spent in an academic conference and related activities at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, the major public university in the country. UP-D is in Quezon City, a suburb contiguous with Manila. He apparently traveled somewhat in Manila as well in Quezon City—the most highly urbanized part of the country, especially at that time—but he never traveled to other regions on Luzon or anywhere else in the country. How much time he spent with workers or trade union leaders is unknown, but if my memory serves, it was extremely limited. (Waterman visited me in Oakland, California on his way back across North America to The Netherlands, so I got a first-hand report of his trip fairly soon after he’d left the Philippines, albeit after he had made a short visit in Hawaii with John Witeck of the Philippine Workers Support Committee.)
I apologize for the above, but I think my experiences and publications are crucial to any analysis of my work: to somehow not mention the above seems to distort any analysis done by Waterman, and since he knows of my work, to not include it is a deliberate attempt to distort my record and destroy my credibility. I deeply resent that. One might also notice that there is not a single reference to any of my work in his list of references for his articles: in endnote #2, he writes, “I will let interested readers do the relevant web search for these, though some are listed in the piece by Kim I am here critiquing,” a treatment he extended to not a single other writer.And it especially rankles when he writes, disingenuously, “So if Kim or anyone else can provide me with more substantial research, I would be more than grateful”; my response is “Why, Peter? You wouldn’t read it anyway, as you don’t want anyone to challenge your ideological attack on KMU.”
Shall we (finally!) turn to the substantive part of his “analysis”?
Waterman begins his article with what he believes is an “expose”: the KMU has joined the International Trade Union Confederation! The only problem is that I was told this while in Manila by Miles Quero, the International Secretary of the KMU: it was not a secret and, since I had not heard previously about it, I had not even inquired; it was volunteered. She told me that it was decided after a full democratic discussion by the leadership. My understanding was that people had decided that the KMU needed to further build its international relations, but that the decision to affiliate had been made after a serious discussion and debate. To me, while knowing the limitations of the ITUC, nonetheless, it made sense for KMU to join. Why Waterman makes such a big deal out of this makes no sense; after all, COSATU of South Africa, CUT of Brazil, and KTUC of South Korea have each belonged to it for years. And, like I said, the decision to affiliate was not secret.
He then asks a series of questions, and here are my answers. #1: What comparative or theoretical arguments exist for the exceptional national and international role of the KMU? If he would read my book—again, a copy of which he has had for almost 18 years—he would find out, as this is all discussed extensively therein. #2: Does joining the International Trade Union Confederation advance global labor solidarity? I don’t know. The KMU leaders have decided that affiliation is worth exploring, especially with changes taking place within the ITUC, including that the presidency of the organization is now held by a Brazilian trade unionist, unlike in the past where leaders have all been European trade unionists. Obviously, we shall see. And #3: Is the KMU still pro-Maoist/Communist or not? It seems weird to accuse a former Communist—Waterman has long been out publicly about his background—of initiating a McCarthy-ite question, but I don’t know what else this can be called.
Waterman has, since 1989, been convinced the KMU is a “front” of/controlled by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). He came to this conclusion after a one-time visit to the country that lasted only a month, and some conversations. He has never identified who told him that the KMU is controlled by the CPP, or what the evidence is that led him to his conclusion. And, as he admits, he never wrote up his research. Accordingly, no one can examine this material on which he bases his opinion.
I have specifically researched the question of whether the CPP controls the KMU or not. I did it for a couple of reasons. One, I was trying to understand the KMU, and wanted to know if members actively ran the organization—directly or through their elected leaders—or not. My conclusion is that members—through their elected leaders—control the organization. And second, aware of how the Soviets had treated foreign visitors in the 1920s and ‘30s—leading them astray, to becoming propagandists for the USSR and the Communist Party that ran the state—I did not want that to happen to me.
To do this, I specifically inquired about the processes by which campaigns are carried out, and if members had the right to not participate. I learned as much about the history of trade unionism in the Philippines as I could. I asked people about this, and specifically discussed this with the then-KMU Chairman, the late Crispin “Ka Bel” Beltran. I listened to opponents’ claims that the KMU was a front—and critically evaluated them. And I read all of the published literature on the contemporary Philippines that I could find.I also talked with American, Australian and British scholars who had conducted research and studied the Philippines. In short—again, it’s in my book—I could find no substantive evidence that the CPP controlled the KMU. That, admittedly, can be argued as not being “conclusive,” but I actively sought to answer the question, and no one has presented substantive evidence to the contrary. So, until someone presents some substantive evidence that I didn’t know about or that I missed—and no one has done this to date—and especially considering the strength of my research, my conclusion that the KMU is not controlled by the CPP stands.
Now, let me be clear: there are members of the CPP or its’ National Democratic Front who are members of the KMU, and I assume some are in leadership positions. (I’m not being cute here: I simply cannot tell and do not know who might be a party member and not who is not.) There are also members who are members of right-wing religious cults, there are Catholics, and there are people from all kinds of backgrounds/political positions, etc., who are members of KMU unions: just like any labor movement in the world, including that in the United States. The issue is not whether there are Communists in the KMU, but whether they can act so as to force the KMU to act against the interests of its members.
Waterman has not shown that Communists in the KMU have been able to force the KMU to act against the interest of its members. He tries, using the terrible statement that initially supported the Chinese Communist Party’s massacre of workers and peasants at Tiananmen Square, but he somehow refuses to admit that the KMU leadership corrected an unauthorized statement.
I specifically discussed this with Ka Bel, KMU’s chairman, in 1990. Bel told me that the statement was issued without being approved by the National Executive Committee, that the offenders had been removed from their positions, that this had been discussed at the following National Executive Committee meeting and condemned, that a new statement had been issued by KMU, and that this issued had been taken up, discussed and settled at the following KMU National Congress, the highest decision-making body in the organization. Had Waterman readmy book, he would know all of this.
However, Waterman is not interested in information that questions his analysis. In his article, he quotes me when I discuss the CPP, and then he writes:
“Now, the start with, the CPP is not simply ‘militant’—or even ‘Communist’ in a traditional sense—it is more specifically Maoist. Any doubt about this can be resolved by reading Sison’s total identification with Maoism, which [Sison] presents in Manichean opposition to the present Chinese regime. It also has a history of not only demonizing Trotskyists, in traditional Stalinist manner, but even of assassinating CPP dissidents and other Leftists.”
And then, Waterman goes on and quotes Jose Maria Sison, the founder of the CPP, and his claims about the KMU.
I find it amazing that Waterman here takes Sison’s word here unquestionably, and without extensive corroboration, when Waterman himself disdains Sison, as is written in Waterman’s on-line autobiography.
Enough of this. Waterman has created his Communist “bogeyman” and he can live with that.
However, there is one final issue I feel I must address. Waterman has again accused me of “identification solidarity” with the KMU “one Filipino trade union centre, rather than with the Filipino labour movement or its working people more generally.” He then continues paternalistically, “Such as ‘self-subordination to the victim’ is an impoverished understanding of solidarity, implying an inverted form of paternalism in so far as it treats its objects as if they were incapable of a dialogical relationship that would allow for criticism.”
To say this is ludicrous doesn’t begin to indicate my disdain for Waterman’s bullshit. First of all, the KMU and its members are not “victims” in the sense Waterman suggests, and I’ve always respected them for standing up for themselves despite how they have been victimized and in the face of tremendous oppression. Second, the KMU has won my respect: read my section on the struggles at Atlas Mines in Cebu in my book, as well as all of my writings, if you want to know why. And third, I have critiqued the KMU in my book. Waterman wouldn’t know any of this because Waterman has never bothered to read my book.
I’m not expecting anyone who has managed to read this far to uncritically or automatically to accept my argument: all I’ve tried to do here is to let readers know that there is an alternative to Waterman’s “analysis.” My writing—on the KMU, Philippine development, and a multitude of other issues (to date, over 180 published articles)—is all referenced on line at http://faculty.pnc.edu/kscipes/publications.htm. If you click on “overview of Dr. Scipes’ publications,” then look at my writings on the Philippines, you will find the last five articles—including one peer-reviewed article—all on-line. At least in North America, one can find my book through “inter-library loan” programs at colleges and universities. Read what I actually wrote, and compare my work to what Waterman fantasizes my positions on these subjects.
And I still don’t know why Waterman wrote this piece.
Kim Scipes, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Purdue University North Central in Westville, Indiana, USA. He is the author of two books—KMU: Building Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines, 1980-1994 and AFL-CIO’s Secret War against Developing Country Workers: Solidarity or Sabotage? (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2010 hard cover, 2011 paperback)—and has an edited volume, Building Global Labor Solidarity in a Time of Accelerating Globalization, currently in press at Haymarket Books, which will be published in Spring 2016. A long-time trade unionist, he has been working to build global labor solidarity for over 30 years.