Splintered labor centers

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014


THE press release talked about a pre-Labor Day news conference at 10 a.m. today by the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP). No, the idea of a labor group holding a presscon before May 1 wasn’t what was interesting in the p.r. What was surprising was the mention of TUCP without the Associated Labor Union (ALU) and without Democrito Mendoza.

This TUCP has for its president former senator Ernesto Herrera. And while the p.r. claimed that TUCP is “the nation’s largest democratic labor center,” a cursory glance of the list of member organizations it provided showed these were “minor” groups. The biggest “democratic” labor union in the country is ALU, and it was not in the list of members.

Of course, the leadership rift within TUCP between Herrera and Mendoza of ALU has been well documented. The p.r. clarified that “the labor center’s internal struggle has already been resolved with the Court of Appeals declaring Herrera as the valid TUCP president.”

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I am sure that the Cebu-based ALU led by the 90-year-old Mendoza will have something to say about that. Last year, the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) recognized Mendoza as legitimate TUCP president although it called on the labor center to schedule a special convention to elect its leaders. I don’t know what happened after that.

Anyway, the p.r. only confirmed what I have been pointing out before about the fractious nature of labor unionism in the country. ALU-TUCP has followed the lead of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), formerly the biggest militant labor center in the country.

ALU-TUCP and KMU used to lord it over the labor movement in the country. What made it ironic is that this happened during the darkest period of Philippine democracy, when the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos was in place. Their growth coincided with the rising protests against the dictatorship especially in the ‘80s.

At that time, ALU-TUCP was the established labor center, although its credibility was questioned because of its moderate stance that was seen as playing into the hand of the dictatorship. Militants soon formed their own labor center, the KMU, leading the workers’ struggle while at the same time joining other sectors battling the dictatorship.

The militant labor center, however, failed to survive the post-Marcos setup. An ideological conflict caused a split in its ranks and weakened it considerably. The splintering of a formidable rival should have benefited ALU-TUCP. Now it is embroiled in its own power struggle.

Because of its very nature, this labor center was bound to splinter. While ideological differences did KMU in, oligarchy seems to be ALU-TUCP’s problem. ALU is the dominant organization within TUCP and ALU is in turn controlled by a family or two (one of which are the Mendozas). Thus, Mendoza has been able to rule as ALU-TUCP president for decades.

Herrera and his group must have seen this battle as a chance to break the stranglehold over the TUCP by Mendoza and his allies. But Herrera, who is formerly with ALU, also has a credibility problem. He has been portrayed as the father of labor contractualization, which has allowed capitalists to deprive the workers of benefits due them.

Which brings me to the line that I have been repeating every Labor Day. There is a need to rescue labor unionism from the rut it is now in. Without strong unions, federations and centers, labor would not be effective in its efforts to advance its interest. Government and business will laugh off their demands, no matter how legitimate these may be.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 30, 2014.

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