Philippines Table of Contents
From independence in 1946 until martial law was declared in 1972, the government encouraged collective bargaining and, except for setting up a commission in 1970 to supervise the fixing of minimum wages, involved itself minimally in labor relations. For most of the martial law period (1972-81), strikes were forbidden or severely limited. The Marcos labor code of 1974 made arbitration compulsory. The right to strike was partially restored in 1976, but with considerable restrictions. The Aquino government took a somewhat more liberal approach to labor, but some of the structures of the Marcos period remained.
Organized labor in the Philippines has been relatively weak. In 1986 it was estimated that about 2.2 million Filipinos were part of the union movement, accounting for approximately 20 percent of the wage-and-salary work force or 10 percent of the total labor force. These workers were organized into some 2,000 unions, half of which were not connected to a national union or federation. In 1987 only 350,000 workers were covered by collective bargaining agreements.
The largest union body was the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP). Formed in December 1974, it was designated the official labor center of the Philippines by the Marcos government. Another labor organization, the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), or the May First Movement, was formed in July 1980, bringing together nine broadly based, more ideologically oriented unions. The two major union centers represented sharply different visions of the role of unions in society. Although TUCP supported Marcos, it represented itself as a proponent of nonpolitical unionism, concerned primarily with the collective bargaining process. The KMU was more openly political, projecting itself as a proponent of "genuine, militant, and nationalist unionism." Going beyond collective bargaining, the KMU called for the formation of worker solidarity movements and advocated a nationalist-oriented alternative to the prevailing economic and social policies of the government. The Labor Advisory and Consultative Council (LACC), formed at the onset of the Aquino administration in 1986 by then Labor Minister Agusto Sanchez, drew the various factions of the labor movement together to advise the Ministry of Labor and Employment. Membership in LACC included the KMU, the Federation of Free Workers, Lakas Ng Manggagawa Labor Center, and, for a short while, the TUCP.
When Aquino came into office in 1986, she had the backing of a wide spectrum of the population, including those affiliated with labor unions. In her May 1 speech that year, before a large and enthusiastic gathering of labor groups, Aquino presented a package of labor-law reforms, including extension of the right to strike, making it easier to petition for a union certification election, and abrogation of repressive labor legislation decreed by the Marcos government. Soon, however, the president began to shift ground as she received vigorous protests by both Filipino and foreign businessmen against her May Day promises. The pledges were rethought, modified in some cases, and not promulgated in others. This willingness to respond to the interests of the boardroom rather than the shop floor also extended to official appointments. In particular, her first minister of labor, Agusto Sanchez, was considered to be too prolabor and eased out within a year of his appointment.
The TUCP was generally supportive of the Aquino government, but the KMU and other progressive unions resisted the conservative drift of her administration through strikes, demonstrations, and antigovernment rallies. The KMU gained influence through its leadership of the national strike, or Welga ng Bayan, in 1987, 1989, and 1990. From September to December 1990, the KMU led a series of general strikes in response to dramatic increases in the prices of petroleum products. These labor actions were noteworthy both because of a heightened level of conflict between strikers and the authorities and because of the participation of professionals and other middle-class groups.
Repression of labor activists, widespread during the Marcos era, resurfaced early in the Aquino administration. In November 1986, the chairman of the KMU was murdered. The following January, the army opened fire on a march of the Peasant Movement of the Philippines (Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas--KMP) and their supporters who were protesting the lack of government action on land reform. Eighteen were killed and nearly 100 wounded. In 1990 the government charged two KMU labor leaders with sedition: Medardo Roda, the head of PISTON, a federation of drivers, and Crispin Beltran, the chairman of KMU. Old charges of slander and fraud dating back to 1967 and 1971 were revived against Beltran. The government also imprisoned the leader of the KMP, Jaime Tadeo, on ten-year-old fraud charges initiated against him by the Marcos government. After a 1990 violent strike, during which an estimated 500 participants were arrested, both the military and government officials suggested banning the KMU as a communist-front organization.
Data as of June 1991
Philippines Table of Contents