True labor power

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THE plight of workers has not improved under the Aquino administration contrary to its claims. Indeed, workers’ fate may have worsened overburdened as they are with taxes, underwhelmed by state services and plagued with the perennial problems of unemployment and underemployment.

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Our manufacturing base has been contracting and we are still very much a remittance dependent country as I mentioned in a previous column.

The administration’s apparent laziness and incompetence has worsened poverty, hunger and social injustice.

The Philippines remains to be one of the countries’ whose wage rates fare poorly compared with those of our Asian neighbors, whose workers are paid better, taxed much less and get more services from the government.

The country’s minimum wage is among the lowest in the region at P481 (private, non-agricultural) while in other private sectors, at P429. This would not even be enough after basic expenses for a working family man to treat his wife and kids to the occasional fastfood meal or movie.

Overtaxed workers can hardly cope with increasing prices of commodities and rising tuition and other fees for their children.

Contractualization is also rampant and unchecked.

Filipinos continue to leave the country in droves is to seek greener pastures.

Data released by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed six out of 10 members of the labor force are looking for better employment opportunities.

All these are compelling reasons why we organized the Katipunan ng mga Manggagawa at Magsasaka ng Pilipinas (KATIPUNAN), a nationwide multi-sectoral political party dominated by workers, farmers, fisherfolks, and workers in the informal economy, and with leaders among its ranks.

We in KATIPUNAN recognize that our labor organizations must stop their dependence on the employer-dominated executive and legislative departments of the government. They must build their capacity for strong, independent political action the traditional way, by organizing the workforce and uniting its various factions.

Let’s face it, organizing efforts have failed here in the Philippines and the labor union movement has stopped growing.

The labor movement in the Philippines doesn’t have strength in numbers. Indeed, a large percentage of our workers remain unorganized despite the fact that there are 21,022 labor unions in the country (they only have a combined membership of a little less than 1. 5 million workers, which is about 5% of the employed workforce).

If we could only organize anywhere between 25 to 35 percent of our workforce then unions wouldn’t need to worry about politicians. It would be the other way around, politicians would be worried about the unions and the unions wouldn’t need to worry about anyone but their own workers.

In other countries like the US, the politicians in both the executive and legislative departments know that the power of the labor movement is nothing to sneeze at. Here, the overall situation of working Filipinos does not reflect any such power.

In the US, the lavish courtship of trade unions by both government and politicians reflects the recognition of labor’s real power, which is rooted in its capacity to deliver votes and back candidates with strong pro-labor records. Conversely, the same power could be wielded against incumbent government officials who support or initiate anti-labor policies.

This capacity for strong, independent political action geared toward getting benefits for ordinary workers comes from having the numbers. It is best exemplified by the mammoth union movement AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations) which routinely persuades well over 65 percent of union households to vote for labor-backed candidates.

This what we in KATIPUNAN want. We will have national and local candidates, either from our own ranks, or adopt candidates who are independents or from existing political parties.

Labor must go independent and must have the ability to stand up for its own cause or causes. Unions must build their ranks and their capacity to mobilize members at the workplace—and at the polls. Working Filipinos must take collective action on their own behalf. They must have a sense of alliance over shared values, shared vision and shared power. And this shared power should not just be for mere patronage.

Only then can workers engage in meaningful fights on political, social and economic issues; and only then can organized labor truly make a difference in the lives of workers.

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1 Comment

  1. Unions in this country are useless to the labor sector because labor leaders are corrupt, period. Having said that, I suggest labor unions train their sights on the call center industry where call center agents are some of the most exploited workers in the country, in spite of their “higher salaries.” These poor workers get the smallest share of the pie, yet without them there will be no pie, any where in this world, except for India. The truth is you can double their salaries and these companies will still rake in a lot of money. It goes without saying, there is a lot of money to be made for labor leaders in this industry too, so it is worth giving it a try.