By Max Lane
MANILA — Fifteen thousand workers from the city of Manila assembled on September 14 to establish a new trade union centre, the Union of Workers for Change (BMP).
More than 700 delegates from more than 200 unions, representing the overwhelming majority of militant union organisations in the Manila region, voted at a general assembly on a series of resolutions establishing their new organisation. The resolutions were witnessed by 15,000 workers mobilised by their factory and workplace committees. The assembly also elected a Council of Leaders and a chairperson, Romy Castillo.
The 253 unions in Manila, covering between 150 and 170,000 workers each, were all once affiliated to the May First Movement (KMU). The decision to form a new organisation took place after months of internal struggle within the KMU and other mass organisations.
It was announced at the assembly that two major national unions, the National Federation of Labour Unions and the National Federation of Labour, will also disaffiliate from the KMU.
The struggle within the KMU has focused on what the new organisation describes as Stalinist and undemocratic methods of functioning. There has also been increasing discontent among trade union members about corruption of some national leaders and a refusal of national bodies to act against corruption.
The battle within the KMU and other mass organisations reflects a conflict inside the Communist Party of the Philippines. Division within the CPP was unleashed following the adoption of a series of documents setting out future strategy without any discussion among the mass membership. The documents call for a return to orthodox Maoist strategy, a strategy which has been questioned by many members of the CPP for some time. The development heightened concern among the left about democracy within the movement.
The final step came after the national leadership of the KMU suspended the 32-member National Capital Region — Rizal (NCRR) Council after it put forward its complaints. On September 2, an assembly of 1600 NCRR trade union leaders then decided to break away from the KMU. This was confirmed at the general assembly held on September 14.
The BMP assembly affirmed the principles of democratic operation within its own ranks as well as on a societal level. In a speech from the floor, the new chairperson also confirmed the movement's commitment to the ultimate goal of a democratic form of socialism.
Reflecting the membership's opposition to corruption and deals with the bosses, the assembly passed a resolution requiring all members of the Council of Leaders to make a formal declaration of all their financial assets at the time of their election and again at the end of their term of office.
Another resolution entrenched the principle of free and fair elections and established a right of recall of all members of the Council of Leaders. Basic rights such as freedom of criticism within the union were reaffirmed.
The general assembly decided to establish its own organisation for women workers. A majority of the assembly were women, and they took to the floor with great enthusiasm after the resolution and during a song celebrating the women's struggle.
Despite the fact that this event came after months of bitter internal struggle, and despite evident sadness at the split, the atmosphere was exciting, vibrant and full of determination to build a new and more vigorous movement.
At times the assembly became more like a mass rally as workers showed their support for decisions they had taken by shouting, clapping and stamping their feet. During a series of stirring political songs and performances, the fighting spirit of the crowd surfaced and during the election of the Council of Leaders cheers went up from the various factory delegations as it was announced that one of their comrades had been elected. Perhaps the highest points were the election of the new chairperson and the bringing forth of the new BMP banner.
A message from the Manila-Rizal Regional Committee of the CPP was read out and warmly received. The committee congratulated the workers on their decision, pledged its support and called on people to recommit themselves to the revolutionary struggle.
Representatives from the labour section of BISIG (Union of Socialist Ideas and Action) and Pandayan (a left social democratic formation) also read out solidarity messages.
Tony Cabardo, representing the National Capital Regional Committee of BAYAN, the federation of all the largest worker, student, teacher and church mass organisations, also read out a solidarity message. NCRR BAYAN has broken away from BAYAN and is about to form a new mass activist political league.
Also present were representatives of the Swedish and Dutch solidarity movements and of the Australian Democratic Socialist Party.