Labor aristocracy and autocracy

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Ernesto F. Herrera

Ernesto F. Herrera

Many people ask me about the current rift in the leadership of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP).

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I could tell you what I told them, about the process of succession and elections, about following a union’s by-laws and constitution, about rules and doing what’s right and what else have you, but I’m afraid you’ll see it as a whole lot of boring bureaucratic hogwash.

So, in a nutshell, I’d just like to say that I am fighting against a specific type of trade unionism, one led by an authoritarian or autocratic leadership style.

An authoritarian leadership may be right at home in the military but should have no place in a democratic labor union, which is what the TUCP is or at least should be.

Simply put, we want to democratize the TUCP’s autocratic leadership.

It is time for reform and change.

Democrito Mendoza has been at the helm of the TUCP since 1974. Most of his family and cronies have also held the top spots in the TUCP unions for the longest time.

He could have easily ruled the country’s largest union until his death but he made the mistake of resigning, a mistake which he wanted to take back by circumventing the very laws of the TUCP regarding proper succession.

The reason, as many see it, is simply so his sons could take over after he is gone.

But is that what the TUCP is? Could labor leaders simply bequeath their posts to their relatives?

Mendoza has earned criticism for his apparent wealth, which needs no exaggeration for it to be shocking. He has yachts and his own island, which shocks most foreign labor leaders who get to know about it. Really, a labor leader from a poor country like the Philippines has his own island?

This, indeed, is quite shocking to them as close to 18 million Filipinos—based on the estimated 98 million Philippine population—still live below $1.25 a day (about P50), according a study by the Asian Development Bank.

What happens then to the members who pay dues to the TUCP unions? Is this why more salaried workers choose to stay out of unions?

All these are very valid questions. We have been harping on mending wrong ways, on accountability and battling corruption in all forms and in every corner, both in the private sector and in the government.

Why should a labor union be untouchable?

The way the Mendozas want to hold on to their posts is at the heart of the controversy and it causes many of our affiliate-members in the local and international unions to shake their heads in disbelief.

It really is a mystery to them how a so-called labor leader can maintain himself in control for so long, longer than the dictatorship of Marcos even.

He has not only entrenched himself in power, he also wants to entrench his family too, with little or no accountability.

If we don’t challenge such a dictatorship then we too would be remiss in our duties. We too would be at fault. We too would not be worthy to be labor leaders.

There are union democracy provisions in the Constitution of the Philippines, in the Labor Code and in the TUCP’s own Constitution that cannot be stripped out and cannot be ignored because doing so would violate union autonomy.

Yet, this is what the Mendozas are trying to do.

After almost four decades in power, it is high time for a new leadership.

We don’t want to be tarnished by infighting. We don’t like what’s happening and the bad image it is casting on the TUCP. Millions of Filipinos are struggling with unemployment and underemployment, have poor job security and no union representation, and yet the labor leaders in the biggest labor union in the country are waging a turf war. We know this is how it looks.

I would be the first one to say, a turf war does not serve the best interests of ordinary workers or our members and will not benefit them in any way. Like I said before, nobody wins in a nasty union battle. Nobody.

But it has come to a point when silence and acquiescence is much less important than doing what is right.

This is more than just a turf war. This is about doing the right thing. Those who can only point to the leadership squabble are missing the broader point: this union dispute is about who should rightfully represent the best interests of workers.

Only with a true, genuine and democratic leadership can the TUCP truly represent its members and the working class; only with good leaders can it fight for ordinary workers’ rights, as any good union should.

I don’t want to devote resources, attention and energy to an internal squabble. But this is about the thousands of our members who would benefit from rightful good leadership and representation.

Autocratic, aristocratic labor leaders are no good for labor unions and have no place in a democratic society.

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