INDEED, the working-class movement, especially in Negros, must rise to the challenges of a new political and economic landscape that has sprung since the 80s and affected much of its organization and struggles.

The working-class movement of sugar farm workers, workers in the manufacturing and services sectors, transport, communication, hospitals, public utilities and schools, semi-proletarians or odd jobber and contractual in Negros Island during the martial law years up to 80s was so powerful and feared that they could make their capitalist and elite employers and bosses easily concede to their demands and interests.

Outside of the National Capital Region, the working-class movement of Negros often led nationwide in terms of the number of Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA) inked, strikes and political actions launched, economic and political demands won, and number of workers becoming full-time worker-organizer.

But what was once a solid and powerful movement is now a fragmented and weakened working-class movement whose actions and voices could hardly move the capitalists and elites to respond to their demands.

Data from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) showed that the number of unions has dropped significantly in private companies and public institutions, and so have the CBAs. Unions and CBAs were the tangible expressions of the workers' strength and their main mechanism to force their capitalist employers to concede to their demands, especially wages, law-mandated benefits, special subsidies and other basic rights.

Due to their weakened position, many have been forced by oppressive conditions to swallow management unions and sweetheart CBAs, worse have been forced to various exploitative labor flexibility schemes such as casual and contractual without the security of tenure.

In the Regional Tripartite Wage and Productivity Board (RTWPB), the workers have practically been begging for wage crumbs and other benefits from the powerful capitalist employers and the DOLE perceived as enforcer of the latter.

Several factors have caused the working class to weaken. Foremost are the internal struggles in the working-class movement revolving around orientational debates, opportunism and betrayals. This led to factionalism, splits, breakups and reduction to a generally anaemic working-class movement.

Second is the offensive of the state via disbandment of the national wage system and instead creation by the amended National Wages and Productivity Commission of the RTWPB in charge of fixing wages in the province, region and industry, which has localized wages instead of being addressed by the Lower House and Senate.

Third is the use of Local Government Code of 1991, which has practically localized the struggles of the workers and other sectors, submitting themselves under the auspices of mostly elite dynasty-controlled local government units (LGUs), and thus forcing the workers to-each-his-own-struggle.

Fourth is the rise of the organized opportunist labor non-government organizations (NGOs) and individuals preying on the weakened and helpless workers through legal and technical services.

All this has emboldened the capitalists and the elites to conspire and use the state to launch offensives including organized repression and red-tagging, which has substantially brought political and organizational damage to the working-class movement.

As workers in various parts of the world rise to “celebrate” International Workers' Month, the Negros working-class movement is called to reevaluate, even to reaffirm and reposition itself in a new local economic and political landscape so it can confront the new challenges and struggles more effectively.

The unity of various labor groups like National Federation of Sugar Worker (NFSW), Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), National Federation of Labor Unions (Naflu), Partido Manggagawa, National Congress of Unions in the Sugar Industry of the Philippines-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (Nacusip-TUCP), independent unions, backed by progressive mass organizations, including the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino though held a separate rally, in yesterday’s May 1st mobilization, was a fresh start in asserting the voice and power of the working class.

The working-class movement positioning against the Marcos-Duterte tandem in Elections 2022 is also an affirmation of its stand against the repressive rule, which has affected many and continues to assault the workers nationwide.

But there’s still so much to do, and act with decisiveness, comprehensiveness and with tactical wit, especially on issues that have caused its weakening and fragmentation.

After all, as the revered father of the working-class movement once said, “the workers have nothing to lose but their chain of exploitation and oppression.”