Challenging Martial Law in the Factories

Article excerpt

Multinational Monitor: Mat is the profile of the Philippine trade union movement? Crispin Beltran: The trade union movement in the Philippines is very weak, in the sense that only about 10-15 percent of the labor force, which is about 27 million people, is organized into trade unions. To exacerbate this weakness, the trade union movement is not united. It is factionalized, and engaged mainly in inter-union struggles.

The whole spectrum can be divided into three general categories. The biggest groups are the democratic and progressive trade union group, to which the KMU belongs, and a conservative bloc. The conservative bloc includes the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), some of the other unions that are identified with the social democratic orientation, the Christian Democratic bloc which belongs to the Union of Filipino Workers and also the very small rightist bloc of the UFW. Then there are the "middle of the roaders," mostly independent unions focused on bread and butter issues. The conservative ones cater with the policies of the government, and of course the multinational corporations through the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Those who are in the progressive bloc struggle with the people on the sectoral and trade union interests of the workers as well as on multi-sectoral issues that are related to the national interest.

Although the progressive and nationalist bloc is more or less numerically dominant, we still are not able to make an imprint or an impact on the policies of government. As a result, the policy of the government in cahoots with the capitalists is repressive and very exploitative in nature.

Our labor laws today are still the labor laws of the martial law regime of President Marcos. During that time, the more or less liberal policies of the pre-martial period were amended to such an extent that liberal unionism was almost prohibited - or at least very restricted. But, after the lifting of martial law and the overthrow of Marcos, there was no substantial return of the workers' rights, especially to organize and engage in strikes. This continues under President Ramos. Specific provisions in the labor law, particularly article 264 (A-J), give the Department of Labor and the Office of the President jurisdiction over any and all labor disputes that involve "the national interest" - meaning almost all disputes can be taken over.

These provisions, which impair workers' rights to self-organization and collective bargaining violate international Labor Organization conventions 87 and 98.

Another provision of the labor law, Article 106, further directly and indirectly restricts membership in the trade union movement by way of massive contractualization of workers. Because only regular, rank-and-file workers are legally qualified to be members of the union, those that remain perpetually contractuals and agency workers are excluded from membership in the union.

Another problematic portion of the labor law involves the wage-fixing authority of the government. Wages of the workers are now left to the sole discretion of the employers and the so-called labor market. The government has relinquished its authority to protect the workers' income as mandated by the constitution - Section 3 of Article 13 of the constitution mandates that the government must secure a living wage for workers. The minimum wage now is only 118pesos [less than US$5] per day, whereas the estimate of the living wage per worker now is about 260 pesos [more than US$10] per day. So the minimum wage is less than one-half of the needs of the worker and his family to maintain a minimum standard of existence and welfare.

These major defects of the labor code (i.e. restrictions on membership, contractualization and wage fixing), contribute to the general weakening of the trade unions.

MM: What percentage of the workforce earns the living wage? Beltran: Seventy or 80 percent of the population falls below the poverty line of 268 pesos. …