The Multinational Monitor


N E W S   M O N I T O R

Filipino Unions Fight Multinationals

by Wes Uemeura

"The problem is not skills, it's power," says a Filipino labor education specialist from Mindanao.

As a first step in trying to gain that power, Philippine workers are looking to unions - aggressive unions. This oftentimes brings them in conflict with foreign multinationals.

Two union efforts illustrate the trend.

Zamboanga Wood products was owned by the U.S timber company, Boise Cascade, until 1974 when a Philippine holding corporation was established, leaving Boise running the business in all but name. Last spring, the 85 monthly-paid workers grew upset at Zamboanga for not paying allowances for the increased cost-of-living. Inflation is running at 15% in the Philippines.

The workers decided to form a union and elected Dionisis Estioca to be their president. But in the midst of their certification drive, the company fired Estioca. In protest, the laborers went on strike. Their pickets lasted three weeks. Then the Philippine police helped Zamboanga's personnel manager bust the strike by firing rifles above the heads of the picketers; the workers were dispersed and a truckload of glue needed for the plywood operations of the company plowed through.

The grievances of the workers have not yet been settled, and the union drive is under arbitration. To aid the unionists, who are suffering substantial losses due to the non-payment of cost-of-living allowances, the National Federation of Labor has come through with a rice subsidy, and community members are also chipping in.

At Dole's pineapple plantation in Mindanao (Dolefil), there is also a union certification campaign underway. Dissatisfaction with the company union caused workers to file a petition to form a new union in April 1982.

The 10,000 Dolefil workers are protesting their poor living conditions, low wages and insufficient medical coverage. Many laborers suffer from exposure to pesticides and other hazardous chemicals used in raising the pineapples.

The results of the union drives at Zamboanga and Dolefil are not yet in, but the labor organizing itself is a clear signal to the multinationals: The days of labor quiescence are over.

Wes Uemura works for Clergy and Laity Concerned in Chicago.

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