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Leader of labor movement in Philippines interviewed

KMU chair talks about genuine trade unionism
By staff |
August 2, 2016
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Elmer “Bong” Labog, Chair of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).
Elmer “Bong” Labog, Chair of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). (Photo credit: Peter Murphy)

Davao City, Mindanao, Philippines - During the International Conference for People’s Rights in the Philippines, Joe Iosbaker, of Fight Back! had the opportunity to meet and interview Elmer “Bong” Labog, Chair of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), or May First Movement. The KMU is an independent and democratic labor center in the Philippines, promoting genuine, militant and anti-imperialist trade unionism.

Established in 1980, the KMU has a membership of 115,000 members, composed of industrial, service and agricultural workers.

Fight Back!: What sectors of workers does the KMU represent? Do you represent workers at plants of multinational corporations?

Elmer Labog: The KMU represents workers from the private sector, including those in the informal and transport sectors. We have member unions from multi-national companies; in fact one of our biggest and longest member union, NXP, is from one of the biggest multinational electronics company in the world.

Fight Back!: Unions in the U.S. have been under attack by both employers and politicians. What kind of attacks has KMU faced, and how are you faring?

Labog: The KMU has always been under attack by both capitalists and the state. The capitalists use their influence in the Philippine government in implementing anti-worker policies of pressing down wages, legalizing contractual labor* and repressing trade union rights. This is why our struggle is always directed both against capitalists and the anti-worker state.

Fight Back!: The U.S. labor movement is at the lowest number of strikes in history. Does KMU still see the strike as the central form of struggle of the workers movement?

Labog: In the past decades, the strike movement in the Philippines has also been weakened by neoliberal attacks against workers. The capitalists, the Philippine government and yellow trade unions connived in implementing neoliberal impositions such as flexible labor schemes, tripartism and repressive policies that weakens workers' rights to unionize, to collective bargaining and to strike.

However, Filipino workers' resistance against these neoliberal attacks are ever growing. In the past years, the Philippine strike movement has been regaining its strength. The number of workers strikes have increased. The KMU has always believed that the strike is the strongest weapon of workers against capitalist and state oppression.

Fight Back!: What is the meaning of ‘genuine trade unionism?’

Labog: the KMU espouses the principles of genuine, militant and nationalist brand of unionism. Genuine as it is formed by the workers themselves and are headed by their officers not by their lawyers or outsiders. It is militant as it adheres to mass actions and other forms of collective actions. It is nationalist as it defends the independence, sovereignty and patrimony of the Philippines.

*Contractualization is an arrangement where workers are hired for not more than five months, stripping them of benefits granted to regular employees by law.

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