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Communicating Labor Internationalism:
The KMU's 'International Solidarity Affair'

Kim Scipes (1996)

There has been a major revival in the practice and communication of international labor solidarity by workers and their allies in a number of countries of the world over the past decade,and theorization about this, but there is very little known about the process by which international labor solidarity is actually created. This paper looks at one innovative and unique program, the annual "International Solidarity Affair" of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) Labor Center of the Philippines, to examine how one labor center builds international labor solidarity.

Key to building this solidarity is carrying out a sophisticated communications strategy, of which the International Solidarity Affair (ISA) is the most developed aspect. Each year for the ISA, the KMU invites workers and labor leaders from around the world to travel to the Philippines for an extensive 10 day program, revolving around the celebration of International Workers' Day (May 1). This is seen as a way to develop both international labor support for the struggles of the KMU and to help build international labor solidarity between Filipino workers and workers from other lands; hence, it is more than a one-way process. During this program, "visitors" are given an in-depth "exposure" to the day-to-day reality of Filipino workers. While the program includes formal ceremonies with nationaldignitaries and meetings with KMU leaders, its centerpiece is going out into the various regions of the Philippines and meeting workers and, at times, their families. This takes place at their workplaces, picket lines and sometimes in their homes.

This article combines both accounts of practical experiences and theoretical reflections. It reports my experiences and observations during the 1988 ISA, begining with an overview of the entire program and a report of formal activities in Manila that began the ISA. From there, it examines current theory on labor internationalism and communications, both of which are necessary to understand the ISA. After that, it discusses the KMU's six part communications strategy to build international labor solidarity, evaluating the ISA as one aspect of thisstrategy and providing additional details on how the KMU conducts ISA-related activities in the (outlying)provinces. Afterwards, it reflects on the impact of the ISA on workers who live both in and outside of the Philippines, evaluates the KMU's overall communications practices, and suggests how these practices could be expanded to enhance democracy within the organization and the larger society. It finishes with some thoughts concerning implications that this case study has for communication theory.

A. The 1988 ISA

While working as aprinter and being a member of the Graphic Communications InternationalUnion, AFL-CIO, I participated in the 1988 ISA along with workers and laborleaders from Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Germany, NewZealand, Sweden and the United States. (There were also Japanese workers there but because of translation needs,they had a separate program.)

Preparation was extensive.Prior to traveling to the Philippines, vistors received an orientationprogram which acquainted them with the country and suggested what they would experience and what they might like to take withthem. Preferences for where each person might like to travel or what theywere specifically interested in seeing were solicited. In addition,visitors received information abouthow they should act while in workers' communities, what type of clothingwas appropriate, and how they should donate money to an organization shouldthey desire to do so.

Once we were in the Philippines, we received a considerableamount of information. The KMU had prepared "orientation packets" for each vistor, in which wewere given an overview of the national situation and the KMU's position onspecific national issues such as the US military bases, and specificinformation on the region that we would visit.

The importance the KMU placedon the International Solidarity Affair was evident. There was animpressive opening ceremony in which some of the visitors activelyparticipated. Senator Wigberto Ta–ada of the Philippine Senate gave the keynote address. Speeches were also given by KMU Chairperson Crispin Beltran andother leaders. The event was covered in the national media. Andthroughout the entire 10 day program, visitors had extensive access to highlevel KMU leaders.

After the formal ceremonies, the visitors were informed where we would bevisiting. The group was split up by destination and our guide gave us a"situationer" (situation report) for the area in which we would betraveling. I was traveling to Mindanao with Philip Statham, an Australian trade union official, and we were given athree hour situationer by KMU-Mindanao Deputy Secretary General JoelMaglunsod, who had been flown in from Davao City to brief us and to serveas our guide.

However, instead of detailingevents in the provinces -- the heart of the ISA-- at this point in time, Iwill wait until later when I discuss the ISA as one part of the KMU'scommunication strategy.

B. Labor Internationalism

Because the ISA is an effortto build international labor solidarity, itmust be evaluated on that basis. And rather than trying to survey thefield of labor internationalism, which has previously been done by PeterWaterman (see especially Waterman, 1988d), and because Waterman has madethe most consistent and extensive efforts to theoretically and politically understand this issue, I will startwith his conceptualization. After reviewing this, I suggest a somewhatdifferent approach and then discuss the implications for the KMU.

1. Waterman'sConceptualization

Waterman makes the point thatbefore we can come to a contemporary understanding of laborinternationalism, we must first understand what is meant by"internationalism." He writes:

By internationalism I ... mean several inter-related phenomena: (1)recognition of the above processes--[the serial reproduction of features ofthe dominant capitalist societies and processes (including those of thenation state itself), the global effects of local acts of capital and state, and the concentration of power insupra-national fora (such as multinational corporations, the International MonetaryFund), which he describes as "internationalization"--KS]--by increasingnumbers in all 'three worlds'; 2) expression of such an understanding bynew social movements or citizen organizations, locally or nationally; 3) the creation of an 'alternativeinternational relations' or an 'international civil society,' prioritizingthe ethic of solidarity and subverting the capitalist and statist style andpractices of the dominant inter-, extra- or supra-state organs (Waterman, 1988d: 2). And after he reviews and discusses writings which focus on traditionallabor and socialist internationalism, contemporary Third-World solidaritymovements, Third-World aid and development policy, international relationstheory, World Systems theory and its critics, and feminism, Waterman draws out some of the implications. Hepoints out that, "It is necessary today to talk ofinternationalisms inthe plural and to recognize thisplurality as essential to the meaning of a contemporary internationalism" (p. 64). And then hedefines labor internationalism as one of a number of internationalisms, andsuggests some implications: Labor internationalism as a general term includes that of workers atshopfloor level, of working-class communities, of trade unions andlabour-oriented parties and of socialist intellectuals. [...] Solidarityis embedded in wage-worker existence and union struggle to a greater degree than amongst many other mass socialcategories. Given the extent to which daily self-defence and assertion requiressolidarity amongst workers, this provides a historical and even a possibleinstitutional base for a revival of internationalism among workers. Such arevival takes place where and in so far as labour rejects subordination to capital, statism and imperialism, andrecognizes the interpenetration of its national and international interests(Waterman, 1988d: 64-5). The place where new forms oflabor internationalism are being developed are overwhelmingly in "third world" countries. In a later article, Waterman(1990) discusses documents from South Africa, Latin America, South Koreaand the Philippines that typify the new forms of labor internationalism.He critiques each of these documents. Noting especially that they ignore workers in the "second world" (i.e.,the communist countries before the changes in Eastern Europe and the SovietUnion in 1989-90), Waterman discusses labor internationalism in regard tothese workers. From out of this discussion, he develops 12 criteria for labor internationalism, althoughhe fails to prioritize or discuss how they interact. He concludeswith: Implicit in these propositions is the following understanding: that thedevelopment of a new internationalism requires contributions 1) from West,East and South, and a dialog between worker movements in each of theseareas; 2) that a new internationalism requires contributions from many international movements (women, peace,ecological, etc.); 3) that whilst labour is not the privileged bearer ofthe new internationalism, it is essential to it (Waterman, 1990: 45). But how is this to take place? Waterman suggests two major principleswhich he thinks are central for the development of labor internationalism:it must be "practical rather than ideological in nature" and that "itshould be simultaneously addressed tothe Third, First and Second Worlds" (p. 46). He explains: By suggesting it should be practical, I mean it should be drawnfrom worker practice rather than traditional socialist, nationalist or other theory. We havesurely had enough of the ideological internationalisms, which ended as theinternationalisms of ideologues. An internationalism based on workers'interests, capacities and aspirations will surely have more meaning and be longer lasting. Beingnon-ideological in origin does not mean that it will be withoutvalues--particularly those of democracy, equality and solidarity (toslightly update the secular trinity of the French Revolution). Nor does it mean that it will not result in a new programme--i.e., in a set of proposals to guide social action and for furtherdiscussion. But 'being practical rather than ideological' also meansproposing activities that can be achieved rather than calling for anapocalyptical transformation ('Workers of the World Unite ...', etc.) that cannot be achieved in this lifetime, and thatsome will in any case reject.   By suggesting that it be simultaneously addressed to the Third,First and Second Worlds, I mean it should incorporate an understanding of the increasinginterpenetration of social processes and increasing identity, orsimilarity, of worker struggles. It does not mean ignoring or repressingThird World 'interests, capacities and aspirations', but of seeing and expressing these in a way that maximises their relevanceto workers elsewhere (Waterman, 1990: 46). In short, laborinternationalism cannot be limited to being only between workers of thefirst and third worlds, or for that matter between first and second, or even between second and third, but can only betruly developed when it takes into consideration and includes workerseverywhere in the world.

2. Discussion ofWaterman's Conceptualization

Waterman's thinking is clear and has a sophistication lacking in most otheraccounts. He argues, in fact, that traditional labor and socialistinternationalism might have been more developed around democratic andnational issues than specifically proletarian ones, even at their peak. And conceptually, he suggests that tounderstand labor internationalism, we must include internationalistsubjects, purposes, forms (spaces, strategy, direction and scope),organization and leadership.

But there is still somethinglacking. While these points are well-taken, they beg the issue that Ithink needs to be confronted: how can we evaluate the laborinternationalism that does take place?

Rather than limit ourunderstanding of labor internationalism to a "shopping list" ofpropositions, such as the 12that Waterman advances but that imply none are any more important thanothers, it seems helpful to recognize that there are different levels oflabor internationalism and they should be prioritized. By suggesting thatsome efforts are more developed (or even more desirable!) than others, I am not suggesting that those lessdesirable should be negated--as in saying, if they don't meet my standards,they're "bourgeois," harmful or even worse--but rather it implies thatthey should be appreciated for what they accomplish, while suggesting more can be done.

With that understanding, I suggest there are three levels of laborinternationalism, which I list from the lowest to the highest, althoughthey are on a continuum and not discrete. And each successive levelincorporates efforts at the lower level(s). The first level is where workers cooperate with each other acrossinternational boundaries: this can include everything from letter writingand donating funds up to and including taking direct action (sabotage, "hot cargoing"/black-listing of goods and equipment, strikes) insupport of other workers' labor and democratic struggles. The second levelis where workers help people in the "target" country change their socialorder: thus workers supporting social movement unions which are specifically fighting to change their social order;workers supporting different social sectors such as women who arestruggling to change the social order, as well as workers supportingliberation struggles as a whole, would be forms of this level of labor internationalism. And the third level iswhere workers in one country struggle to change their own social order soas to be able to both support peoples in other countries struggling tochange their respective social ordersand to live in solidarity and on a more equitable level with peoplethroughout the world.

Approaching labor internationalism in this manner recognizes thereality of imperialist (oppressor/oppressed; dominator/dominated) powerrelations in the world and suggests that ending them is better thanallowing them to continue to exist. And approaching labor internationalism in this manner validates thestruggles by workers in an oppressed nation--in this case thePhilippines--as being just as important as those by workers in an oppressornation--such as the United States--when they struggle to change their respective social order: by challenging their socialorder to no longer allow itself to be dominated by others or to dominateothers, workers confront dominative power which is ultimately the verybasis for their own subjugation.

3. Implications for the KMU

With an understanding of these different levels of labor internationalism,the labor internationalism being practiced by the KMU is of the thirdlevel. However, especially in seeking international labor solidarity fromworkers in the more economically developed countries (MEDCs), its efforts in seeking support would fit with the second aspect;i.e., they are trying to get workers in the MEDCs to support them in theirefforts to change their own social order.

Locating their efforts in the second level of labor internationalismincludes worker-to-worker cooperation, but it specifically includesbuilding support for KMU efforts in the face of harassment and interventionby the Philippine state, whether by legalor illegal forces. This also allows supporters in the United States to challengeefforts by the US Government to send aid and give trading privileges to thePhilippine government, giving opportunities for supporters to address issues through invoking campaigns about"labor rights" which, in turn, allows other ways for international labor solidarity to bebuilt. It also provides KMU supporters in the United States theopportunity to challenge the AFL-CIO's international operations in thePhilippines. Furthermore, this aspect of labor internationalism also allows KMU supporters in every country tochallenge international labor organizations, such as the InternationalUnion of Food and Allied Workers Organizations (IUF), when they attack theKMU (see Scipes, 1989b).

Prioritizing different levelsof international labor solidarity provides a criteria by which solidaritywork can be measured and suggests additional work that can beundertaken.

It is important to locate the KMU's efforts to build international laborsolidarity within the theory of labor internationalism before going on tocommunications theory. But having done that, we can now proceed.

C. Relevant Communications Theory

Before evaluating the International Solidarity Affair as a form of internationalistlabor communication, I must review the relevant communications theory.Because the KMU's minimum project is to extend mass democracy throughoutthe entire social order, this specifically requires that we review theory that addresses the role of buildingdemocracy within social conflicts. 

In this section, I review twoaccounts of media involved in social struggle from less economicallydeveloped countries--one from South Africa (Tomaselli and Louw, 1989), and the other from Mexico (Stangelaar, 1986)--as wellas refer to Peter Waterman's work in The Netherlands where he is trying todevelop propositions supporting the development of internationalistcommunication (Waterman, 1988b). After reviewing each, I then discuss their respective perspectives and suggestwhat they might mean to this study of the KMU's International SolidarityAffair as a communications strategy.

However, the issue ofcommunications goes beyond "simple" communication. As will be seen, the struggle to establish a "people's media"--mediathat is squarely on the side of the disempowered in the battle to changethe social order--is, in reality, a struggle to democratize society. Thusthe relevance of communications theory to the KMU extends far beyond "just" building international laborsolidarity, but is crucial to its very vision of a new social order.

1. Review

I'll structure my review toaddress studies which run, in relation to my concerns, from the moregeneral to the more specific.

(a) Tomaselli and Louw

Keyan Tomaselli and Eric Louw are two activists/academic researchers inSouth Africa. Their article is an effort to reflect on their overallexperiences with a media activist research unit at the University of Natal,and to try to share some of the issues and problems shared by "the movement" in the struggle to democratizeSouth Africa. It is an effort to draw out lessons from their experiencesand generalize them.

These authors state that thereare two categories of media in South Africa that can be considered "progressive":these are "the social democratic independent and the left-alternativepresses" (Tomaselli and Louw: 204).

They describe the two categories:

The 'independent press' is different from, and alternative to, theapproach, form and, particularly, the content of the conservativecommerical mass media. Emphasis is on ordinary people, rather thannewsmakers. This press is explanatory rather than event-oriented, works to a different time-scale of writing stories, and attempts to connect causes with effects.Although such papers are generally supportive of the broader progressivetendency, they remain independent of specific political organizations andof monopoly capital. [...] Adherence to objective journalistic practices ... preclude opportunisticaccusations of propaganda, securing the paper some protection against stateaction.   ... alternative left papers ... are an expression of communitystruggles, themselves located in the wider struggle for democracy. These media not only challenge conventionaljournalistic practices, but are organizationally connected to, and use thesigns and codes arising out of popular political movements. These papersare the result of collaboration between collectives with production skills and theoretical knowledge (of bothprint media and social theory) and the participant community. Productioninvolves the community in the conception-production-distribution cycle.Progressive press workers consider themselves organizers first and media practitioners second (Tomaselli andLouw: 204). Papers of both thesecategories have a different view of communication than do the traditionalpresses: For the 'progressive presses' in particular, communications is amultidimensional grassroots process. Communication for them meansfacilitating the communication of their readers' experiences, and providinga centre of gravity for the development of a consultative and participatory production process. [...] Communication isbasically the articulation of social relations (Tomaselli and Louw:209). Central to this type of communication is participation by those who themedia is writing about and establishing "a real two-way communicationstructure." And media that has been organized on this model have a rolemuch larger than just reporting information: "Media thus generate democracy rather than only information"(Tomaselli and Louw: 213).

Thus, Tomaselli and Louw arguethat in creating a media network to support social change, it should meetseveral principles. It should

a) help create and maintain grassroots participatory democracy;

b) militate against totalitarian-centralism;

c) providestructures small and accessible enough to allow mass democratic (two-wayparticipation);

d) provide a learning experience that teaches useful technical and socialskills as well as a respect fordemocracy itself; and

e) encouragean engagement with ideology (and awareness of the degradation of self-worththat occurs in the working class under capitalism) (Tomaselli and Louw:214).

They also look at the role of theory in building a progressive press,suggest a number of issues that have garnered increasing attention amongmedia workers in South Africa, and report how the Contemporary CulturalStudies Unit at the University of Natal has been contributing to the development of an "alternative" press in theircountry.

(b) Stangelaar

For the best example of theoryof alternative communications that I've been able to find, developed through his work on video in Latin America, I must turn to thework of Fred Stangelaar, 1986. In this piece, Stangelaar defines what hemeans by "alternative communication":

The concept of alternative communication (AC) in this outline is apolitical one. The adjective 'alternative' does not, therefore, refer inthe first place to alternative forms, contents or technologies ofcommunication themselves. It refers explicitly to an alternative political tendency, which reflects the concretedaily-life struggles of the subaltern classes. [...]

A definition of AC as 'the organization, forms, contents and technologiesof subaltern communication' would, however, be both too wide and toolimited. But it would, above all, be too static. It would be too widebecause subaltern or popular communication covers a more specific field of action--one relevant to its ultimatepolitical cause. It would be too limited because it would exclude thecommunications practices of individuals or groups which do not themselves belong to the subaltern classes but who stimulate and developsubaltern political expression outside the dominant media structure and ina way that allows some control by the subaltern classes or theirorganizations. It would be, above all,too static because AC developed and continues to develop not only due tothe sophistication of subaltern struggle during the various historicalstages of capitalist and imperialist development but precisely as a resultof the continuing sophistication of the dominant communications structure (Stangelaar: 11-12).

Within the field of political communication, Stangelaar identifies fivedifferent types. However, his distinctions are somewhat unclear so I turnto Peter Waterman's review of Stangelaar, which I think clarifiesStangelaar's murkiness on this particularissue: Stangelaar sees the major source for alternative communication in thepractical resistance to international capitalism, this implying struggleagainst racism, sexism, the state and war.He wishes to distinguish four different types of non-dominantcommunication. These are ... and 4) alternative communication (AC). Thefour fundamental and interdependent characteristics of the last are: a) acontent, language, imagery and symbolism that comes direct from the people and confronts those of the oppressor; b) anorientation toward total social transformation; c) a mobilising andorganising role, surpassing both vertical and horizontal information flowswith a 'spiral' communications model; d) an active role in production and distribution by the relevant sector ofthe people and/or popular organizations. Such an active participationimplies, among other things i) interaction between sender and receiver; ii)messages that further interaction of both the population and the professional communicators; iii)accessibility of both form and content to the masses, at a minimaleducational level, education being part of the communication; iv) publicaccess to both production and distribution channels;v) participation in the communication education structures; vi)organisation of a public capable of criticising and eventually correctingthe media (Waterman, 1988b: 24-5). But the characteristic of alternative communication that makes it differentfrom other types of communication is that "AC aims at a fundamentaltransformation of not only the dominant communications structure but ofsociety as a whole" (Stangelaar: 13).

(c) Waterman

From this perspective, PeterWaterman has proposed "10 propositions on 'internationalist communication'." Waterman is interested indeveloping a concept of internationalist communication, which he defines as"the creation of transterritorial solidarity relations which enrich andempower popular and democratic communities or collectivities by exchanging, sharing, diversifying and synthesizingtheir ideas, skills and arts" (Waterman, 1988b: 26). In a propositionfocusing on labor communication, he writes:

There may be cases or practices that embody a number of the four fundamental and interdependent characteristics of AC listed earlier. Butwe can hardly expect such particular cases or practices to each confrontthe oppressor, be oriented toward a total social transformation and havethe participatory, educational andcritical characteristics required. The development of such a modeltherefore requires the identification and analysis of the whole range ofinternational labour communication practices, whether of a non-dominant ora specifically alternative nature. We therefore need to examine traditional international labour communication, aswell as such mass or individual labour activities as migration, vacations,work and study trips, interpretation of dominant media images of labourabroad, amateur radio and computer communication, correspondence, etc. We also need to be aware ofsignificant wage-worker or labour-movement participation in the IC work ofsuch 'middle-class' initiated or dominated internationalist activities, asthose of the churches or human rights movements. We need to be sensitive to the communications work and skills ofincreasing numbers of skilled or semi-skilled workers, as well as those ofincreasing categories of 'proletarianized education, cultural,communications and information professionals or technicians. These, and their organizations, are not only capableof acting internationally in their own right but also of acting as agents(educators, technical specialists) for others (Waterman, 1988b:29-30). And then Waterman presents andanalyzes the Chasquihuasi radio news service of Santiago, Chile.

2. Discussion

The most immediate consideration is that all of these studies are relatedto the expansion of democracy, and of social struggle to create it, fromthe bottom-up through the transformation of the various social orders.Therefore, each is of immediate relevance to this study concerning the KMU.

Tomaselli and Louw provide aclear idea on the interrelationship between the media, although they onlyaddress the print media, and developing democracy. They see the development of "progressive" media asbeing a key issue for the development of democracy, and although I didn'tspecifically refer to it, the maintenance of democracy once it is achieved;i.e., in their work, they also specifically raise the question of "how organic intellectuals of the left canbe prevented from becoming a new elite" (Tomaselli and Louw: 214). Butwhile putting out some excellent thinking and a general "philosophy" of therole of progressive media in themidst of social struggle, and ideas on how this can best beoperationalized, they do not provide theory regarding communicationitself.

Stangelaar, on the other hand, does theorize on the different types ofcommunication, and does specifically provide some basic principles ofalternative communication. He firmly places AC in the social struggle,rather than being removed from it. His conception of communication is not limited to the print media and, in fact,although he writes of AC as a communications process, it seems quite plausible that his conceptualization can extend toinclude direct, interpersonal communication as well as that which ismediated.

Waterman puts forth 10 propositions on which the concept of"internationalist communication" can be developed. While these areinteresting in general, his is the only effort which specifically mentionslabor (as in labor movements) as a particular area in which to develop alternative communications.

To summarize, all three ofthese writings are interesting and useful to our evaluation of the KMU's efforts. Stangelaar inparticular provides some clear guidelines from which to approach thiscommunications work, although Tomaselli and Louw provide a context andgeneral lessons from working within that context that are very important to our evaluation, and Waterman suggests theimportance of evaluating labor movement efforts. With this background, itis now time to evaluate the KMU's International Solidarity Affair asinternationalist labor communication.

D. ISA as Internationalist Labor Communication

The KMU is engaged in a project to transform the Philippine social order.But it is a non-violent struggle. As KMU Chairperson Crispin Beltranstated in an interview on May 2, 1990 in Manila, in which he differentiatedthe KMU's strategy from that of the Communist Party of the Philippines: "The most important consideration isthe peaceful and parliamentary character of our struggle: we denounce theuse of violence in order to achieve our goal" (Scipes, 1995). Key to this is the full establishment of democracy. And while thereare many within KMU who want to take this further, and counterposesocialism to capitalism, this has not been concretized and, in fact, theevents in China, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union over the past few years have forced some within the KMUto re-evaluate their ideas.

The key to achieving this project of social transformation for the KMU leaders is the development of a strong, democratic labor movement that is based in workplaces throughout the society. This labor movement has built strongties to other social movements in the Philippines and has been andcontinues trying to do the same with labor movements around the world.Thus the concept of labor internationalismhas been integral to their project from the beginning. Central to this has been the establishment of an International Department tocoordinate this work. The International Department has developed asophisticated communications strategy by which to carry out the project of building international labor solidarity. I review theoverall communications strategy, and then focus specifically on theInternational Solidarity Affair.

1. KMU's Six-Part Communications Strategy

I have differentiated six aspects to the KMU's communications strategy thathas been designed to build labor internationalism, both in general andspecifically with the KMU itself. One aspect has been the development ofperiodicals to convey news and information about the KMU and its struggles, as well as to provide KMU'sanalysis of the situation in their country to others. Initially there wasKMU Correspondence and KMU InternationalBulletin--with the Bulletin being limited to only a couple of times a year, albeit ingreater depth, with Correspondence being generally amonthly magazine--but in 1988, KMU dropped the Bulletinand began producing an improved Correspondence monthly. And while most of the news focuses on the Philippine situation,there is always news of labor and democratic struggles around the worldincluded in Correspondence--and this has included news of labor struggles in the US, such as thoseagainst the Hormel, Greyhound and International Paper corporations.

Another publishing effort,which is tied into KMU's internal education program, is the publication anddissemination of their key trade union education manual, GTU:Genuine Trade Unionism (EILER, 1988). One edition of GTU is in English,allowing them to send it to labor organizations in different parts of theworld. I have been told by a senior South Korean trade unionist thatGTU was very useful in their efforts to develop their new democratic unionmovement, and KMU Chairperson Crispin Beltran has told me that the SouthKoreans have translated it into their language.

Another aspect of the KMU's communication strategy is encouraging groups inother countries to set up "solidarity" or "support" committees, which aredesigned to communicate updates on the situation in the Philippines andspecifically KMU struggles to people and workers of other countries. Thus, in the US, there are the Philippine Workers Support Committees,with chapters in several different cities; in Britain, there's the TradeUnion Committee of the Philippine Solidarity Committee; in Australia,there's the Asian-Australian SolidarityLinks committee; all which have done considerable work in building supportwith the KMU. Both PWSC in the United States and AASL in Australia havetheir own publications, while the TUC in Britain publishes news and reports in the journal of the Philippine Solidarity Committee. Thesesolidarity groups also work to facilitate visits by KMU leaders in theirrespective countries, while serving as contact points and screens forpeople wanting to visit the KMU.

The fourth aspect is international travel by leaders. KMU leaders havecarried out extensive international travel to communicate about and buildsupport with their efforts, particularly focusing on various labormovements. While most of these trips have been to the more economically developed countries, where the labor movements aregenerally larger and have more financial resources, they have also traveledto various "third world" countries as well as to Eastern Europe and theformer Soviet Union. One innovative effort was organizing a European Solidarity Conference in London duringFebruary 1986, which included labor leaders and representatives from anumber of unions from throughout Europe. KMU leaders have alsoparticipated in two conferences of labor organizations throughout the Indian and Pacific Oceans Area in Perth, Australiaduring 1990 and 1992.

The fifth aspect is the development of "exposure" visits throughout thePhilippines by foreigners. This takes place in its most formalized anddeveloped sense during the International Solidarity Affair, but KMUcoordinates visits throughout the country all through the year. This may be little more than just arranging for unionleaders in different parts of the country to meet with the "exposurists"and update them on the situation in their area, or it may involved a very detailed"exposure" to a local area. In any case, it is another attempt tocommunicate the reality of Filipino workers to foreign guests. This workcan often pay off to an even greater degree if and when the visitors report back to people in their own country, andeven more so if the visitors get reports of the visit published or getinterviewed in the alternative or mass media at home. 

And the sixth aspect of this communications strategy is the initiation and development of the International Solidarity Affairas a means to both communicate to worker-visitors the real situation ofFilipino workers and to involve KMU members at all levels in thiscommunications process. That this even takes place around International Workers' Day (May Day), which the KMUcorrectly recognizes as originating in workers' struggles in the US during1886 around the eight hour day, reinforces the international solidarity focus on the event.

Three things are immediately observable concerning the KMU's communications strategy: (1) ittakes place within a larger struggle for social change; (2) it is amulti-faceted approach; and (3) it is highly integrated into the KMU'sstrategy for social change. It is clear that the KMU takes its communications work extremely seriously.

And within this largercommunications strategy, I now want to focus specifically on the ISA as oneaspect.

2. The InternationalSolidarity Affair (ISA) as an Aspect of KMU's Communications Strategy The ISA differs from the other aspects of the KMU's communications strategyin how it is carried out. The first four aspects are based on continuingwork by a relatively small number of full-time staff or elected leaders,but exclude rank-and-file workers. The fifth is generally limited although it doesn't have to be and, inthe case of specific exposure programs, is not. Nonetheless, for thepurpose of this article, I will include the fifth with the previousfour.

The point is that the ISA isa unique communications effort within the overall communications strategyof the KMU. But it is also, as far as I can discover, a unique effortwithin labor internationally: I can find no other example of a systematic,regular program that is designed to build international labor solidarity. Thus it deserves being analyzedindependently.

(a) The ISA

The immediate purpose of theISA is to get workers from countries around the world to travel to thePhilippines to introduce them to the reality of Filipino workers; the idea is to get these visitors to work within their labormovements and societies once they have returned home to build support forthe KMU specifically but also for Filipino people's struggles in general.Thus building personal connections between each visitor and Filipino workers is seen as the key to doingthis. So while visitors are treated with respect and given access to highlevel leaders throughout the KMU, the crucial point is to get the visitorsout of Manila and into the provinces where they can see the real situation. (I discussed events prior toleaving Manila in the section above on the 1988 ISA.)

Once in the provinces, besidesintroductory meetings with local area leaders, visitors are taken to meetwith workers at various workplaces. 

For example, duringour 1988 visit to Davao City on the southern island of Mindanao, we were takento meet hotel, dock and garment workers. At each stop, we got an overviewand analysis of their situation and an update on their current activities. We were encouraged to ask any questions we might have, and theunion members shared their personal experiences and tried very hard to getus to understand. But we also gave reports on the situation for workers inour respective countries, and talked about how our labor movements were confronting the problems in oursocieties. The workers asked us questions: why did we come to thePhilippines, and particularly Davao City? They wanted to know why we werewilling to takeserious risks--the vigilante movement (i.e., death squads) was stronger in Davao City than anywhereelse in the country, and quite obvious with numerous "check points"throughout the city--to come learn about their struggles. As we talked, wegot a sense of each other and one could also see solidarity being created. One man even gave me the addressand phone number of a sister in California and asked me to call her andtell her he was ok--I was pleased at how much this message meant to herwhen I later contacted her and delivered it.

After spending a couple of days in the more urban parts of the city, wewent to a rural part to visit workers on a banana plantation. Theseworkers had been waging an intense struggle to maintain their union, withArmy units all around the area in this supposedly "rebel-infested" area. In fact, union officer Peter Alderite hadbeen hacked to death by vigilantes using bolo knives the year before rightoutside the union office on the plantation. Other officers lived in thebanana trees for months following the killing, although things had been a little quieter for awhile.

We had an extensive program at the plantation. We received an in-depthbriefing by the union president, who told us both about the union strugglesand the labor process for growing bananas. We then spent hours walkingaround the plantation, talking to workers as they worked, who explained their tasks. We covered the wholerange of the growing process, from planting to boxing the bananas forshipment. After spending the day in the workplace, we were invited by workers to visit their "community" and toeat with them. We met spouses and children, and visited their homes. Weshared information about schooling in the different societies and variousthings from our lives. Althoughvery poor, they shared what they had and related to us as equals--theyconveyed their strong sense of self-assurance and confidence that comesfrom having stood up for themselves and their colleagues. We then traveledto another part of the plantation and talked with Lisa and Philip Alderite, the widow and son of the slain unionleader. It was a particularly intense conversation since we met on thefirst year anniversary of Peter's assassination. Afterwards, we returnedto the community where people shared some coconut wine called "tuba." We spent the night on mats on thefloor and had breakfast in the community before going to other parts of theplantation and meeting other workers.

After several days in DavaoCity, we returned to Manila where we rejoined the other visitors. On May Day, we marched with approximately 150,000workers through the streets of the city to Luneta Park for a spirited rallyand speeches. The day after, we spent time sharing each group of visitors'particular experiences, and hearing the details of an armed attack on marchers in Laguna Province on MayDay. The ISA ended with a dispedida (departure) party. Among other things, we sang songs of struggle from ourrespective homelands. It seemed an excellent way to end the ISA.

Having a sense of what actually takes place during these visits allows oneto see that there is a second part of this communications strategy: ourpresence signified to those workers that their lives, their struggles,their victories, their losses and their pain was important to workers in other parts of the world. And that wewere willing to spend considerable amounts of money to travel to thePhilippines and then take certain risks to show our concern and make theseconnections illustrated to them that this was a serious concern, not something taken lightly. It is from thissecond part that one can see the ISA as a mutualcommunications process, a spiral, in which we learned from each other: itsurpasses a one-way flow of information.

(b) Evaluating the ISA from a Communications TheoryPerspective

But how do we evaluate thisfrom a theoretical perspective? First of all, following Tomaselli andLouw, this communication process is multidimensional--as stated above, thisis a spiral process. It definitely is a process to strengthen the grassroots democracy in the union andlarger society.

Following Stangelaar, the ISA qualifies as alternative communication. Itmeets all of his criteria for AC: it is based on an orientation towardtotal social transformation; it has a language which comes direct from thepeople and confronts that of the oppressor; it has a mobilizing and organizing role, following a spiralcommunications model; and the people are directly involved.

And, following Waterman, itqualifies as internationalist communication. The ISA "aids in the creation oftransterritorial solidarity relations which enrich and empower popular anddemocratic collectives by diversifying, exchanging and synthesizing theirideas..." (Waterman, 1988b: 12).

E. Reflections

The KMU's efforts to build international labor solidarity are havingimpacts on workers in other countries--and have the potential to do moresowhen workers from still other countries respond to KMU efforts--and theyare affecting their own members.

1. Workers Outsidethe Philippines

The KMU's communications pratices have placed the issue of internationalsolidarity again at international labor's table: workers supportingworkers is counterposed to the post-World War II traditions of labormovements in so-called developed countries either supporting their "own" state which may then act in support of workersoverseas but also may act against them (as sometimes in the US, andthroughout Western Europe and Japan), and/or attempting to dominate overseas labor movements (a favorite approach of the AFL-CIO).

The KMU's practices differ from "traditional" efforts in another extremelysignificant way: they are not done behind the backs, and without theknowledge, of their members. To the contrary, especially during the ISA,the KMU involves its members, and generally tries to keep the membership well informed overall. Again, thisdirectly contradicts the practices of the AFL-CIO, which tries to hide itsinternational operations and, when forced to publicize them, usually lies, deceives and in other ways distorts theactual situation (see Scipes, 1987).

By inviting workers to the Philippines to experience much of the day-to-dayreality of Filipino workers, the KMU takes the issue beyond being an"intellectual concept": spending the night with a workers' familyimmediately demonstrates the difference between workers' situations there and those in the developed countries. Yetat the same time, the pride of these workers shows immediately that they consider themselves second to none (in an assertive rather than anagressive manner), despite their poverty and general lack of power. Italso fills one with admiration for the level of organization and successachieved to date by these workers, oftentimes under horrible situations .

If nothing else, travel to partake in the ISA forces the visitor tore-evaluate her or his "knowledge" of developing countries. It brings hometo the visitor the reality that there are working people in the "ThirdWorld"--as opposed to mass media images of victims always seeking handouts; thatthese workers are not the enemy, stealing jobs from developed countryworkers, but sisters and brothers in the struggle against domination andespecially by Capital; and that there is a lot we can learn from these workers and their organizations. Thesefactors can combine to get visitors to be willing to consider alternativesto their own trade union practices, as well as alternative views concerningtheir own social order. Additionally, experiences on this level also contribute to building a new globalconsciousness.

However, I think the most important impact of the KMU's internationalactivities is that of providing an alternative view of what trade unionismcan be. While certainly riskier than the economic type of trade unionismpracticed today in the developed countries, social movement unionism as practiced by the KMU offers workerstheir own position of power in the struggle to determine the future courseof development of their own society, and a means of uniting with socialmovements for maximum impact.

2. Workers in the Philippines

But what benefits acrue to KMUmembers from its efforts to build international labor solidarity?Obviously, financial aid and moral and political support from workersoverseas are two benefits.

However, there are even moreimportant benefits. Knowledge that developed country workers are coming tolearn from them is extremely important; besides any other benefits, thiscontradicts the "message" given in Philippine schools and mass media that they are inferior todeveloped country workers, and it indirectly challenges the racism that"brown" people aren't as valuable or human as "whites." These visits alsosignify that Filipino workers are part of something larger, that they are part of the world-wide struggleagainst domination. Especially during hard-fought struggles where it iseasy for workers to feel all alone and isolated, this becomes a signficantfactor.

But the solidarity visits also bring something of more immediate benefit: they are a concrete way bywhich Filipino workers learn that workers around the world know about theirstruggles, are concerned about them as human beings, and that visitors arewilling to spend valuable time and money--and at times, take considerable risks--to come express theirsupport and solidarity by the most real way possible. The impact of thison Filipino workers is something that simply cannot be underestimated.

Additionally, thecommunications practices discussed herein can serve as a basis for furtherextending democracy within their own unions and within the larger socialorder.

From my experiences with the KMU, I have seen that it is democraticallyrun. Having participated in meetings at different levels of theorganization, I've found debate to be lively, critical and open. It seemsthat issues can be put forth by the rank and file for discussion and debate, although I've only been present atmeetings where issues have been presented by leaders. However, I've never seen any situation where I felt members were unable orreluctant to talk with their leaders--the situation is such where theorganization could not survive if this type of situation emerged.

Yet I do wonder what the situation will be like should the pressure betaken off the KMU, and some type of real democracy institutionalized in thecountry. Will this mean a deterioration of the democracy in theorganization as people "relax"? Will bureaucratization raise its ugly head? Obviously, no one knows, but as I pointed out in an earlier article (Scipes, 1992a:156-158), this issue needs to be confronted beforehand so as to be able toreduce any negative tendencies within the organization. Some of thiscommunications theory suggests a way to try to nip this problem in the bud: establishing democratic forms ofmedia at the grassroots level--not by staff or leaders but by rank and filemembers--would be a way to both counteract any anti-democratic tendenciesin the organization and, more importantly, institutionalize additional democratic structures in the union,while helping to further develop democracy throughout the largersociety.

What would this look like? The first idea is one of creating rank andfile-run local newspapers. This could be based in the union or, takingadvantage of the fact that KMU unions are social movement unions, in thecommunity. The latter would be preferable, perhaps involving the spouses and even some of the older children inthe conception, production and distribution of the paper. Obviously, this would prevent the focus frombeing limited to just workplace issues, and could serve as media for thelarger workers' community. Also, as people joined together from differentorganizations, it could work to build deeper solidarity relations with a larger body of people. (Thus it wouldbe conceptualized along the lines of Tomaselli and Luow's"alternative-left" papers.) But while this could be an elaborate process,it does not have to be an expensive one: the paper could be mimeographed and passed out hand-to-hand. Self-sufficiencycould be achieved with enough financial support. But while this papercould be started in a local union or in a local alliance--a combination oflocal unions--it should be run and funded outside of the union structures: that way, people get theopportunity and responsibility of developing their project themselves.

Another possibility is toorganize people to produce a short, say 15 minutes a week, radio program tobe aired on the local radio station. A well thought out proposal to station managementmight be favorably considered--especially if it came from a group that hasshown it has strong organizing skills in the community and was willing touse them to pressure station management to accept their proposal should management be unwilling to accomodatethem. Similarly, another group might organize to produce a weekly columnor news item in the local commercial paper.

It is here that Tomaselli andLouw's work offers some clear guidance. They point out that there are traditionally three main themesaround democratizing media: (1) thinking about the type of mediastructures needed and how to create them; (2) thinking about democraticpractices in the larger society and what role media is to play in developing them; and (3) how to prevent the emergence ofa new elite.

As they point out:

Participation is the key word in organizing left-alternativemedia. In the South African context, it has proven an excellent way ofdeveloping asense of involvement and empowerment. This is important in a society wherethe underclasses are denied a sense of control over their lives (Tomaselliand Louw: 213). But I would go even further,adding to the issues they raise: how is this media work to be organizedwithin the media group itself? Is is going to be hierarchical and authoritarian,with those on top--either because of who they are and know, or because theyhave more quickly mastered important skills--running the show, or is it tobe democratic and egalitarian (collective), whereby all the work--from conceptionto distribution--is shared, and everyone is expected to learn and use allof the skills? Because I believe that the process by which something isdone is oftentimes even more important than what is accomplished, I think there is no more important issuethan this: how can media be used to help create democracy in the largersociety if itself is not a democratic (on an on-going basis) creation? Ifthe decision is to work collectively, then how can people get training so as to be able to completelyoperationalize their own project? How will this training be organized andcarried out? And then once this training is done, how can these skills beshared with a larger audience so as tocontinually enlarge the potential pool of media activists?

Two thoughts on all of this.First, included in these issues is the conception of leadership. What isleadership? Traditionally, it is thought of being the art of leading, ofgetting people todo what one wants them to do, and it is carried out by a person or peoplewho occupy formal positions in an organization. But Harvey Jackins, 1987,suggests a much different approach: leadership occurs when any personwithin the group thinks about the well-being of the group as a whole, and not just his or her immediateself-interest. In other words, any person in the group can be a leader,regardless of formal position held or not. And Jackins goes further,arguing that to succeed, every group needs at least one leader of this type; without this, a group will fail. So onekey point in the development of any alternative media project is to try todevelop everyone into a leader of this new type, so that everybody takesresponsibility for the well-being of the entire group.

Second, what is the base for a project such as I've suggested? Thereneeds to be an on-going relationship with a stable institution with whichmutually-based solidarity can be built and expanded. This does not have tobe a local union--it could be a community-based group--but I think a social movement-typeunion would provide an excellent base. This is because a union consists ofpeople from a wide range of backgrounds, with a wide range of politicalperspectives, and it is rooted in workers' communities. It also unites workers from all their differentperspectives. Because it is part of a national organization, it can callon this network for support, both financial and, more importantly, foraccess to people to help provide training, experience, guidance, etc. KMU unions are also democraticorganizations, so a proposal such as this could definitely be seen as a wayto both strengthen democracy within the union and within largersociety.

But what then would be the relationship with a particular local union? Isuggest that the union conceive of an alternative media project as beingone to strengthen democracy in the union and larger society and, therefore,make it a priority for development. (I think it needs to be conceived and projected as a democratic project rather than a communications project, so that people feelconnected with it.) The goal would be to, after extensive discussion andratification, initiate an alternative media project. The union mightprovide an original and limited subsidy or perhaps better a loan, and support for reaching out to people in the largercommunity from whom the media workers could get skills training, advice,etc. However, this would have to be seen as spawning a new organization,rather than an on-going union organization. In other words, the union would providehelp in getting it off the ground but then it would be a completelyindependent organization over which the union would have no control otherthan as part of the larger "clientele" of the media project. Obviously, this would take an exceptional union, butI think this type of union is fairly common in the KMU.

3. Implications for Communications Theory

Besides having implicationsfor the KMU and the struggle for democracy in the Philippines, this case study of the International Solidarity Affair andsuggestions that I've presented as a result of my reflection on the ISA andKMU's communication strategy as a whole have implications forcommunications theory. I'll suggest three.

a. This study confirms Stangelaar's concept of alternative communicationas being useful in describing at least some current communicationspractices. Further, my reflection suggests that this is a viable conceptin helping activists further develop their thinking and practice. But Stangelaar needs to include interpersonalcommunications in his conceptualization to be joined with mediatedcommunication.

b. This study supports Tomaselli and Louw's general philosophy and ideason how to operationalize democratic media practices, but suggests that theyneed to be extended. The question of democratic practice within mediaorganizations cannot be overlookedand, in fact, need to be prioritized.

c. This studyconfirms Waterman's concept of internationalist communication, and the necessity and importance of specifically includinginternational labor communications within its boundaries. But itcounteracts part of his pessimism: as opposed to his statement that "wecan hardly expect such particular cases or practices to each confront the oppressor, be oriented towards a total socialtransformation and have the participatory, educational and criticalcharacteristics required" (Waterman, 1988b: 29), I have just shown that aparticular case can have all these criteria.

F. Conclusion

This study has looked at theefforts by the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) Labor Center of the Philippines to build international laborsolidarity, and specifically at the KMU's sophisticated communicationsstrategy to build this solidarity. This has been evaluated from thecontext of both labor internationalism and communications theory. I reported on my experiences as a participant in the1988 International Solidarity Affair, the most developed aspect of theKMU's communications practices, focusing on the heart of the ISA which takes place among workers whensharing their particular experiences. Additionally, after reflecting onthe impact of the KMU's efforts on both workers inside and outside thePhilippines, I made suggestions in which expanding the scope of rank and file-based media work was presented asa key strategy in furthering democracy within the KMU as well as within thelarger Filipino society. Further, I reflected back on relevant mediatheory, finding it useful and yet presenting ways in which this case study and reflection suggests this mediatheory should be extended. 

Additionally, my methodology of using a case study and applying theory toit, as well as then applying the case study back upon the theory, hasitself been a form of spiral communication, thus increasing the value ofthis article. This overall attempt therefore honors the work of the KMU, while suggesting how it can beextended--and its relevance extends far beyond just the KMU.


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