Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The struggle continues: from strike to workers' centre, from the provinces to Manila

Last night I could barely get to sleep for all the excitement of the last couple of days...

From strike to workers' centre
On Sunday Ning, Merryn and I went to visit Gabriela, the national alliance of militant women's organizations, and spent the afternoon talking to Emily, the International Relations Officer. I met Emily on my last trip in 2003, and it was good to see her again. She hadn't slept in two days as they are very busy preparing the activities of the coming week surrounding the case of Nicole, a woman raped by U.S. military men. Despite being tired, she spoke eloquently of their work and conveyed the commitment and passion that she continues to put into the struggle.

Emily spoke of the impacts of the political killings and political repression on their work of educating, organizing and mobilizing Filipino women. At key moments, they have been forced to refocus their work to fighting the political repression. When the political killings and repression worsened, she said that at first some of the women were afraid to join in Gabriela activities, but with their assessment that it is more important than ever to continue their organizing, the women have continued and refuse to back down in the face of repression. The women have responded with all of their collective strength, but it is clear that the repression has taken its toll, if only in the sadness of lost kasama (comrades) and for the pain of the victims of the rape and violence. It struck me how this movement is able to respond with such strength and optimism, confident in the path they've chosen the free the Filipino people from imperialism and the brutality of its government.

Emily was also able to update me on a strike that I observed in 2003. Gabriela has a wing that organizes women workers - in February 2003 they were actively organizing the workers of SM Mall (one of the largest malls in Asia). I had the opportunity to go with the organizers into the mall to talk to workers, then to a house meeting with the workers, and finally to sleep on the strike lines when they took it to the streets. I was inspired by the militancy of the workers, and the model of a women's organization that organizes in workplaces where women are the vast majority, although men also participate. These unions are members of KMU, the federation of militant trade unions. Through their strike in 2003, the workers succeeded in winning their back pay, but many of the regular workers were "retrenched" (fired) for participating in the strike. However, rather than take this as a defeat, these women became organizers and opened the Gabriela Silang Centre for Displaced Workers, which organizes women workers who go from contract to contract and are often unemployed. Because of contractualization, it is increasingly difficult to organize workers at the worksite. This workers' centre is a creative solution, as it organizes at the community level. I was impressed at how even a defeat, with creativity and vision, can be turned into an opportunity for advancing the struggle. It reminded me of workers centres in the U.S., where similar conditions and barriers to organizing call for similar tactics. We're hoping to visit the centre following the fact finding mission.

From the province to Manila
On our tour of the KMU office yesterday, we met a young trade union organizer, maybe my age (25), with a clear and passionate anti-imperialist analysis who I recognized from my visit to the provinces in 2003. He didn't recognize me after so long and with long hair (at the time I had a quazi-crew cut), but with some memory-proding greeted me warmly. He was forced to move to Manila due to threats and political persecution, where he continues to organize workers. The political killings are primarily taking place outside of the capital region, and trade union organizers are at the top of the hit lists. In Manila, he is able to continue to organize workers with slightly less risk, although he is certainly not completely safe.

He was able to update me on another kasama from his community who generously put me up in his house with his family, took me to visit different workers' organizations and treated me as a member of the movement and family. His seven year old daughter was already planning to become an organizer and his wife was pregnant with their second child. There were receiving regular death threats for his leadership in the union. Since then, I have been concerned for him and his family with all the news of the political killings and repression. Yesterday I was able to talk to him on the phone, enough to know that they are well and that they now have a three-year old son. They are also living in Manila (again, forced to move from their home due to the very real threat of being killed) where he is an organizer with a KMU trade union. Although sadened and angered that they were displaced from their home and community, I spent most of the day with a grin on my face knowing that they are healthy and alive.

My relief at making contact with these friends and comrades brought home to me on a personal level the reality of these political killings, disapearces, rapes, harrassments and the effects of living in fear. Because when it's someone you've met, shared food and stories with, and seen active in the struggle, that loss and threat of loss is much more acute - and so is the determination to fight this wicked system that kills and dispears people whose only crime is fighting to create a community, country and world where we can live with justice and peace.

So, inspired and even more determined, we sit down today for our orientation on the Fact Finding Mission. Tomorrow we will leave for the provinces.



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