Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Philippine Labor Day Evolution

Labor Day in the Philippines
Labor Day in the Philippines
The first Labour Day celebrations were held in the Philippines on May 1, 1903 in a mammoth rally in front of Malacañang Palace staged by the Union Obrera Democratica (Democratic Laborer's Union), while pressing for workers’ economic rights.

The UOD was the first modern trade union federation in the country, earlier labour groups had been more of mutual aid societies and guilds. The organization had thirty-three affiliated trade unions as of 1902. In 1903 the organization counted with 150 affiliated unions, and around 20,000 members in the Manila area. At its peak, the Union Obrera Democratica had around 150,000 members in eight provinces of Luzon.


The organization was established on February 2, 1902 at a congress of "approximately 140 printers and lithographers" gathered at Variedades Theater in Sampaloc, Manila.

Isabelo de los Reyes, or Don Belong, was elected president of the organization, whilst Hermenegildo Cruz was elected secretary. Except for Cruz, all the elected founding officers were "rich manufacturers and employers in Manila." The founding congress adopted the principles of two books, Vida e Obras de Carlos Marx by Friedrich Engels and Los Campesinos by Errico Malatesta, as the political foundation of the movement. According to historian Melinda Tria Kerkvliet, the main goals of the organization were: "to improve working conditions through protective labor legislation; locate work for the unemployed and assist their families; provide free education for workers' children; assist sick members and those in distress; and emancipate workers through saving and related projects."

July 4, 1902

UOD organized a mass rally on July 4 (the Independence Day of the United States), 1902, with around 50,000 participants. The rally demanded independence for the Philippines.

August 1902 strike

The organization called for a national general strike on August 2, 1902, in protest of the refusal of the government to comply with the demands for increased wages for the workers. The first strike action occurred on August 9, 1902, as workers at the Malabon Commercial Tobacco Factory staged a went on strike. The Union Obrera Democratica organized various walk-outs in factories in Manila and adjescent cities in support of the strike. The state authorities responded by arresting Don Belong and three other union leaders. Don Belong was sentenced to four months in jail. As a result of the strike, wages were increased in some factories. Working hours were, however, unaffected.

Gomez at the helm

Don Belong was pardoned soon after being jailed, on condition that he would not continue as a labour organizer. Cruz assembled a meeting to elected a new president of the organization. The Spanish physician Dr. Dominador Gomez as elected as the new president of Union Obrera Democratica. After the election of Gomez, the name of the organization was changed to Union Obrera Democratica Filipina ('Filipino Democratic Workers Union').

May Day 1903

In April 1903 a meeting was held in the Malacañang Palace between the Union Obrera Democratica Filipina leaders (including Gomez) and governor William H. Taft, in which the trade unionists demanded that May 1 be celebrated as 'Labor Day'. No agreement was reached, as Taft and Gomez clashed verbally. Following this meeting, Gomez was labelled as a 'subversive' element. Requests from the Union Obrera Democratica Filipina to organize a rally on May 1 was denied by the authorities. In the end, UODF organized a massive anti-imperialist rally with around 100,000 participants outside the Malacañang Palace. This was the first May Day celebration in the Philippines.


Gomez was subsequently arrested and condemned to forced labour. Like Don Belong, he was acquitted on the condition that he left UODF. Following Gomez's defection, unions began disaffiliating from UODF. After only two years of existence, the organization collapsed. Moreover, the U.S. administration began bringing American Federation of Labor organizers to the country, trying to promote a less confronational type of unionism (leading to the foundation of the Union del Trabajo de Filipinas).

The KMU: Rise of Militant Unionism

Kilusang Mayo Uno, or May First Labour Movement (KMU) is an independent labor center in the Philippines promoting militant unionism. It follows in the fighting tradition of the country's first trade union, the Union Impresores y Litografos de Filipinas in 1892 and the Congress of Labor Organizations (CLO) of the 1950's. It was created on May 1, 1980 during the Marcos administration to represent the progressive worker's organizations in the Philippines advocating for the National Democratic struggle - in particular the removal of what was seen as "US Imperialism".

The Kilusang Mayo Uno espouses the revolutionary tradition of the Filipino Working Class which has its roots in the formation of the country's first trade union, the Union Impresores y Litografos de Filipinas in 1892, to the 1896 Nationalist Revolution of the Katipunan, to the Congress of Labor Organizations (CLO) of the 1950's.

The US Imperialist success in crushing the CLO in 1952 forestalled the revolutionary tradition and bred the collaborationist character of the workers' movement. But new organizations of militant workers were formed like the National Federation of Labor Unions (NAFLU) in 1957, the Coalition of Workers Organization and the National Movement of Filipino Workers in 1970, the Unity of Filipino Workers in 1975 and the Brotherhood of Workers in 1976. Imbued with this tradition, Filipino workers rallied behind the KMU when it was formed on May 1, 1980. For the first time since the CLO, a rallying point for genuine, militant and nationalist unionism emerged.


KMU advocates for an across the board wage increase of 125 pesos. This campaign has been launched in 1999 and in December 2006, the House of Representatives approved House Bill 435 seeking a P125 legislated wage hike.

KMU is also leading a campaign against extrajudicial killings. Since 2001, more than 70 unionist and labor activists have been killed by death squads. The union president of Nestle Philippines, Diosdado Fortuna was among the union leaders killed. They have also launched an international campaign against political killings and have filed a complaint to the International Labour Organization versus the government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.They have also an ongoing campaign to boycott Nestle whom they accuse of labor rights violations in Laguna province on Luzon island in the Philippines. Previous campaigns include a Transportation strike in a protest against rising oil prices in 2004, and a campaign to free the late congressman Crispin Beltran from Philippine police authorities.

(These are the evolution and significant activities in the observance of Labor Day in the Philippines as posted by Edgar Sistar in ETCETERAPermission for posting has been granted.)

Source: LABOR DAY IN THE PHILIPPINES by Edgar Siscar in  ETCETERA. (with permission)

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