The national police has been ordered to be in full alert. The military is on standby. No, we are not just watching the movements of vessels from China in our western front, or keeping vigil at our southern borders. We are keeping watch at some expected tremors in the labor front. Intelligence reports indicate that a large alliance of progressive labor groups is going to mount a massive concerted action on Labor Day. And if the leftist infiltrators are going to do their job, they will most probably penetrate the demonstrations and rallies, and then plant some molotovs here and there, thereby posing a grave and imminent danger to public safety.
The pages of history of Labor Day celebrations here and all over the world are filled with the blood of trade union leaders and policemen who died in pursuit of their respective aspirations, depending on which side they find themselves. In 1886, there was a bloody confrontation in Chicago between the demonstrating trade unionists and the Chicago police force. That was called the Haymarket Massacre because many died, both workers and members of the police force. From then on, May 1 started to become a day of reckoning in all labor fronts all over the world.
In the Philippines, the first mass action ever staged was led by UOD or Union Obrero Democratico where more than 100,000 workers marched from Plaza Moriones to Malacañang, demanding that the working hours each day be reduced from 14 to 8. They were also demanding for absolute and immediate independence for our country. The American colonizers became so alarmed that a group of Philippine Constabulary officers and men raided the UOD headquarters, arrested Dr. Dominador Gomez, the union leader, and sequestered the printing press where they printed union propaganda materials.
Ten years thereafter, in 1913, Herminigildo Cruz, a progressive leader of the CONGRESO OBRERO DE FILIPINAS led a big Labor Day rally. They were still fighting for 8 hour-working day, and called for Philippine independence. Since then, the labor front has always been suspected as “communists,’’ perhaps because the words “communism’’ and “unionism’’ have some strange audio similarity. Many trade union leaders were also advocates for independence, like Don Isabelo de los Reyes, and Don Gregorio Aglipay, who founded also the Iglesia Filipina Independiente.
Today, the Philippine labor movement has been emasculated and is highly fragmented. The left is led by KMU (KILUSANG MAYO UNO), which by the way, was founded on a Labor Day during the Martial Law Regime. The right is being led by TUCP (TRADE UNION CONGRESS OF THE PHILIPPINES), which unfortunately was split a few months ago, with the Democrito Mendoza Wing controlling most of the Mindanao local unions and some of the Visayas units, and the Ernesto Herrera Wing which controls most of Luzon and part of the Visayas.
In the center is the FFW (FEDERATION OF FREE WORKERS), which is a Jesuit-founded and inspired centrist trade unionism led by Visayan speaking leaders from Mindanao, with Atty. Allan Montano from Agusan as the President Emeritus and Atty. Sonny Matula, as the National President. These leaders are moderates and they usually align themselves with the right, rather than with the left.
But whether right, left or center, the unions have a lot of issues that can easily rally the working class around. The number one issue is the rising incidence of poverty and hunger among the masses. The escalating prices of oil have driven the cost of living to unprecedented levels, while the real wages have shrunk. With the prices of food, housing, water, power, transport, medicines and tuition fees at run-away levels beyond the reach of the working class, and the minimum wage being controlled and pegged to levels below the survival floor, we are facing a very volatile socio-economic situation.
The series of bloody demolitions by the government of urban poor settlements are pushing the poor to the wall. They have no other option but to defend themselves. The police also has no other option but to do their jobs. The state is pushing both sides to confrontations. If we don’t give the poor other alternatives, they have nothing to lose but their lives, lives that are too miserable and destitute. If they would all unite and fight back, I shudder to think of the dangers they can bring about to the whole nation. We can only hope and pray that the Lord shall intervene and keep the peace for all of us.