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
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
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
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.
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:
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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:
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
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
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:
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).
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,
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.
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
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
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 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
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).
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
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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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