IN the years leading up to Martial Law, I was chaplain of the Federation of Free Workers (FFW), a Christian-democrat labor federation founded in 1950 by Johnny Tan and Fr. Walter Hogan S.J.
Fast forward to the nineties, as president of a bank I found myself facing an FFW vice-president on the bargaining table. We knew each other from our younger days at FFW, he as organizer and I as chaplain. Long story short, we hammered out a collective bargaining agreement in record time.
From where I straddle both sides of the labor-capital divide, I see that capital views its goals and strategies through one common mindset while labor views its own from varied mindsets. You have the unemployed, under-employed and the employed-but-unorganized on one side and pro-establishment, liberal democrat, socialist and extreme left groups on the other, all fighting (or not fighting) exclusively for the narrow interests called for by their respective mindsets.
Because they are not united, their only source of leverage in negotiations or protests for living wages and benefits is the threat of disruptive strikes their numbers pose to capital. Thus, all they have so far been offering is the fragile promise of industrial peace which is really a veiled threat of a strike should capital fail to abide by its side of the bargain.
Maybe labor groups should start breaking positive and offer higher worker productivity. This would erase their not-totally-unearned reputations as refuge of problematic workers and as being simply pro-labor in the bitter anti-capital sense of the term.
Employers have always been opposed to higher wage-benefit packages for workers on the grounds that such is bad for the economy. Yet, the only genuine gauge for economic progress should be the improvement of the quality of life of ordinary workers. In which case, the low wages and meager benefits of ordinary workers have clearly not been good for the economy.
For, where are our ordinary workers now with their low wages? They are scraping the bottom of the barrel, unable to afford the houses, appliances, etc. they produce for others, the nutritious food they need, the education they want for their children, the medicines for their sick, etc.
Contrary, therefore, to their claim, it is good for the economy that capital shares more with labor. But labor must also give something positive in return, like higher productivity from union members, to compensate for some diminution of profits but also, more importantly, to preclude hurting the job opportunities of the unemployed in their ranks.
For as long as the system is capitalist only such positive behavior by both capital and labor can get the economy to progress for the good of all.