Socialist Worker

The Philippines: between repression and revolt

Pete Pinlac, the president of the Communication Workers Union of the Philippines, came to the recent British CWU union conference where he addressed delegates and spoke to Socialist Worker

Issue No. 2003

Pete Pinlac at the CWU conference (Pic: Solent CWU)

Pete Pinlac at the CWU conference (Pic: Solent CWU)

From the moment I was elected president of the union in 1994, I knew it would be a time of harsh struggle. The Philippines is at the cutting edge of imperialism and globalisation.

It displays all the sharp aspects of those processes. The country is home to six of the richest billionaires in the world, while many are forced to sell their organs to survive.

The poverty is such that people sell their eyes, gall bladder, kidneys or blood.

Imperialism has scarred the country, and you cannot have a true struggle against exploitation and poverty without taking into account the wider aspects of global power.

In the face of the onslaught of imperialist globalisation, the working class more than ever needs to cultivate the spirit of internationalism.

This is to ensure that the unity of the workers of the world will be forged strongly so that we, as a class, can put up a good fight against the attacks of neo-liberalism on the working class and humankind – and overcome it in the long run.

The policy of liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation ensures the accumulation of super profits for the multinationals based in the US, the European Union, Japan and other rich countries, to the detriment of the citizens of the entire world.

This globalisation scheme generally leads to enormous job losses both in rich and poor nations.

But although neo-liberalism is principally directed against the workers of the world, it is also directed against the poor and dependent nations.

Thus, the workers in countries like the Philippines are suffering acutely.

The increasing impoverishment and hunger of the Filipino people are the result of the generally decreasing national income due to the outflow of natural and created wealth and resources and of productive forces – a brain and labour drain.

CWUP is the rank and file union for workers of the Philippines Long Distance Telephone company.


Bosses much preferred the compliant leadership before me, so workers had to strike for eight days to get me recognised as union president.

Through another week-long strike in 1995 we won a precious agreement that if a position was declared surplus to requirements then the individual whose job was lost would be found a new position.

The management had an obligation not just to find a new job, but to provide training so the person could do that job.

If an engineer was moved, for example to become a computer analyst, he or she would have to be retrained.

Our strikes were powerful because we had the power in the exchanges to cut off big firms like Pepsi, Coca-Cola and St Miguel while keeping most of the domestic traffic as normal. The broad population supported us while the multi-nationals screamed.

In 1995 president Fidel Ramos brought the Philippines into the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on the instructions of the US empire.

It was to show a “good example” to the rest of the Third World.

This move meant an intensification of austerity, deregulation and liberalisation.

For us it meant two bitter struggles over telephone exchange closures. The first time we won after seven days on strike.

Then the president passed new labour regulations giving new powers to bosses to employ agency workers and banning strikes against casualisation.

These laws made our struggle harder and in 1997 we were defeated after a very bitter 32 day strike.

We did not lose everything, but it was a setback that opened the door to much greater use of agency workers who have no rights.

In 2000, mass mobilisations brought down president Estrada and the new leader revoked the labour code regulations that allowed unchecked agency workers. But although we have more rights on paper, in reality nothing changed.

It has been tough for us in the last five years. The management won another important dispute in 2002.

We face very serious repression. I have been beaten and arrested repeatedly during protests and picketing.

I have been visiting the CWU conference. If that conference were to happen in the Philippines then probably one or two of the delegates would be killed by government mercenaries.

The government employs a “black army” which, like the death squads in South America, is used for extra-judicial murders.


At the end of last year one of our activists was killed half an hour after the police had issued a press release announcing her death.

On 18 May this year Annaliza Abanador-Gandia was murdered in Balanga City.

Gandia was a leader of a women’s group affiliated with the Kilusan para sa Pambansang Demokrasya (KPD), a national political centre we are associated with. She was the fifth leader affiliated with the KPD to be killed since December 2005.

Gandia was gunned down in her workplace. She is survived by her two children and her husband who is working as a peasant organiser. Since Arroyo came to power in 2001 there have been at least 520 extra-judicial killings.

But we remain fighting and we take heart from, for example, the strength of the anti-war movement around the world.

We were very impressed by the two million on the streets of London in February 2003.

The worldwide anti-globalisation movement is growing with tens of millions now involved – this is a cause for hope and solidarity.

The workers and trade unions of the rich nations should forge unity with the workers and unions of the poor nations. While we acknowledge that the half million employees hired by call centres in the Philippines is a significant addition to our labour force, we know as well that it is a half million job losses for the US and European working classes.

Only by recognising our common enemy and through the unity of the workers of the world can we effectively fight and win.

The interests of workers of one nation cannot be realised without active participation in the attainment of international objectives.

I thank the British CWU for its support and financial aid which continues to assist our organising and educational work. The net worth of the top three billionaires in the world is equivalent to the gross domestic product of 48 developing countries.

The net worth of the top 475 billionaires of the world is equivalent to the income of the three billion working people of the world, half the world’s population.

This is the system we fight together.

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