Metro Manila strike against high prices


In response to a 63% increase in the price of rice in August, and massive repression of the right to form unions and to strike, Filipino workers, led by the National Confederation of Labor (NCL) and the Bukluran ng Manggagawa para sa Pagbabago (BMP), organised a one-day general strike on September 18. This article by BUTCH UMANGAN from the NCL Bulletin gives an account of the action. Factories fell silent and production ground to a crawl as militant unions in Metro Manila and the nearby province of Rizal launched a work stoppage on September 18, Monday early morning. The factory walkouts started at daybreak as the night shifts were packing up and regular time workers were assembling. Pickets were set up at factory gates, short protest programs were held after which strikers took rides or marched to the strike's central demonstration at Makati City, the country's heart of finance and capital. The industrial action sought to bring down the exorbitant rise of prices of commercial rice, sugar and other basic commodities. It also sought to block the pending increase in prices of petroleum products and electricity rates. Torrential rains on the day failed to dampen the militant strike actions. More than 114 local unions in Metro Manila and Rizal were hit by industrial actions. A total of 123,000 workers affiliated with NCL and BMP were involved in one way or another in the protests. Multi-sectoral organisations such as Sanlakas, youth-student organisations such as Kamalayan and the National Federation of Student Councils (NFSC) and consumers organisations supported the strike. The large airline ground crew union, the Philippine Airlines Employees Association (PALEA), also sent delegations to the demonstration. Operations at the docks of Manila were paralysed when 3000 workers under the banner of the Alyansa ng Manggagawa sa Pantalan (APL — Alliance of Dock Workers) joined the strike. According to Mel Manaois, chair of the APL, "We were twice stabbed by government when they allowed the prices of goods to rise even as they are undertaking privatisation of the piers which takes away our only means of livelihood". The dock workers pledged to continue with their strike against a government executive order which privatises the piers and will lay off up to 60% of the work force. More than 8700 strikers and sympathisers converged on Makati and were showered with confetti as a form of solidarity by office workers and white collar employees from high rise buildings. They held a protest program at the main thoroughfare of Ayala Avenue, where speakers took turns denouncing the Ramos government's rice and price policies. "The Ramos government is turning a deaf ear to the cries of millions of hungry Filipinos who are victims of inept and anti-people economic programs and policies", said Renato Constantino Jr, chair of Sanlakas. "It has no competence and right to hold the reigns of government." Simo Carullo, president of NCL, also castigated Ramos for his "treachery and deception". Prior to the action, Malacanang [the presidential palace] had called labour leaders to a dialogue on September 14. The dialogue turned out to be a winding discussion on the current economic policies of the Ramos administration which barely touched on the issues raised by the strike. Democrito Mendoza, president of the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), had convinced leaders of the strike to attend. Mendoza was also quick to turn up to media after the dialogue to announce the TUCP's unilateral withdrawal from the general strike because Ramos had "acted on the majority of the strike issues raised". "Government treachery against the people's welfare is matched by the modern day Judases of the trade union movement. These labour aristocrats have sold out the strike for a few pieces of political silver", said Ernie Arellano of the NCL. The Federation of Free Workers (FFW), Trade Union Philippines and Allied Services (TUPAS), the Lakas Manggagawa Labor Centre (LMLC) and the TUCP withdrew one after another in the course of strike preparations even after all had signed a unity declaration and public notice of the general strike on September 6. According to Romy Castillo, chair of the BMP, narrow political interests motivated leaders to withdraw from the strike. Senator Boy Herrera, general secretary of the TUCP, is currently locked in battle for committees at the Senate. The TUCP, FFW and the LMLC are scrambling for sectoral representations in the lower house of Congress. A majority of their nominees got the nod of Malacanang days before the general strike. A TUPAS leader was appointed labour representative to the Employees Compensation Commission on the day of the strike. "Genuine socialism is the only road towards salvation for the working class", said Romy Castillo during his speech at the strikers' demonstration. Rene Magtubo, general secretary of the BMP, warned of sharper industrial actions of the labour movement in the immediate future.

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