The Crisis of Capitalism and the Philippines’ Struggle for Socialism
(Speech of Leody de Guzman, President of the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino, at the International Center for Labor Solidarity, Seoul, South Korea, October 13, 2011)
Just a few months after it seemed that the dust finally settled after the capitalist crisis of 2008 and 2009, two new crises erupted. There are now talks about a double-dip recession following the Debt Ceiling crisis in the United States and the continuing debt markets crisis saga in the European Union. Both hit the most powerful capitalist economies in the world, threatening to undo market integration projects for which capitalist governments have invested time and money during the apex of the globalization movement in the 1990s. This is more than anything capitalism has faced in almost a century.
At this point in time, it is clear that what we are facing is no longer a short-run, periodic crisis, but rather a deeper crisis in economic management. There were outlooks on a “new normal growth” for the United States – a projected lower growth rate range for the next decade or so for the epicentre of the current crisis. We are now transitioning from a simple financial crisis to a general productivity problem for world capitalism. This only shows one thing – that the global capitalist system is clearly showing its inability to govern the economic affairs of humanity in the most efficient way possible. Global capitalism has lost its edge, its productivity and effectiveness is deteriorating. Clearly, the time has come for something else – a new social and political system – to replace capitalism as a system of production and ownership. Clearly, the time has come for socialism.
Filipino socialists and progressive democrats have seen these developments and have struggled to frustrate capital's attempt to reinvigorate itself, starting from within the borders of the Philippines – a country that has felt the wrath of the global financial and economic crisis. Admittedly, the struggle is difficult, as socialism in the Philippines is currently facing a great threat from a popular champion of the pro-American bourgeois class - President Benigno Aquino III. Aquino, being the son of a slain anti-dictatorship politician Benigno Aquino Jr. and the first post-dictatorship President Corazon Aquino, vowed to continue his parent’s legacy of "clean and honest government" and rid the government of corruption – seen as the biggest threat to the Philippine business class as well as foreign investors. With the Philippines just coming out from the corrupt and illegitimate presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the masses who had been impoverished in the last decade of Arroyo are still willing to give Aquino a chance despite his clearly anti-people, pro-business policy.
Aquino is a great threat to the movement, and this is because he is a powerful deodorant for the stinking Philippine elite. Philippine capitalism needed stability, and the Aquino administration, with its focus on "good governance", "transparency", and "accountability", was designed to provide it. Aquino is necessary for more efficient capital accumulation and exploitation of the working class. This can be clearly gleaned from his Philippine Development Plan (PDP) for 2011-2016 – the Philippine’s economic blueprint for Aquino's entire term – which is essentially neoliberal and supportive of the corporate sector. It promotes Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) as its primary strategy for development – a mode of financing and project implementation designed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) to facilitate governments’ transfer to corporations its role in public infrastructure and social and economic services. The plan promotes “inclusive growth” – a concept created by the World Bank (WB) which is just a rehash of the debunked “trickle down” approach which recommends “supply-side” support for the rich because it will “trickle down” to the poor. The plan promotes liberalization of mining, which will allow foreign mega-corporations to exploit our natural resources, ruin our ecosystems, and drive out indigenous people from their ancestral domains for profit.
Filipino socialists wasted no time attacking Aquino’s neoliberal blueprint. Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM) [Party of the Labouring Masses] led a series of attacks against the Philippine Development Plan. Together with broad democratic group Sanlakas, members of PLM marched during Aquino’s 2nd State of the Nation Address (SONA) to condemn what it dubbed as “People’s Destruction Plan”. Other progressive groups such as the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) questioned the “private property regime” that remains to be the basis of the blueprint, forcing the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) – the cabinet office of neoliberal technocrats – to defend what they called as a “purely competitive economic system” operating under conditions of “profit maximization”. At this point, there is no doubt at which side the Aquino government is on.
Aquino’s pro-capitalist orientation is more obvious in his policies on Philippine labor. The Philippine Employment and Labor Plan (PLEP) outlines plans for labor flexibility as a means to generate “mass employment”. Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) attacked PLEP, calling it a “pillar of globalization”. But nowhere is the class character of the Aquino administration more exposed than in contractualization fiasco in the Philippine Airlines (PAL) – the country’s privatized flag carrier now owned by tycoon Lucio Tan, the 2nd richest man in the Philippines.
Lucio Tan, far from being just rich, is the head of a corporate conglomerate that includes the largest tobacco manufacturing firm in the country, rum processing factories, a university, the 5th largest bank in the country, among many other smaller businesses. As of the time of writing, Lucio Tan is set to terminate at the end of September 2,600 ground staff and catering employees in an illegal third-party outsourcing plan. The Philippine Airlines Employees Association (PALEA) conducted a series of protest actions, leading to a sit-down strike last September 27, paralyzing flight operations at Manila airport and costing PAL 80 percent of its daily revenues between $4 million and $5 million. This prompted Aquino himself to threaten PALEA with “economic sabotage” charges – a clear position against Filipino workers who voted him to office. Aquino’s pro-contractualization and pro-capitalist pronouncements in the PAL stand-off speaks louder than his PDP or PLEP.
At the entire course of the struggle, BMP has struggled with PALEA to end contractualization and labor flexibilization in the Philippines. BMP, as a socialist labor center, believes that the struggle against contractualization is a struggle against capitalism itself – which is in a continuing drive to remove all fetters in labor hiring and firing and pull labor wages down. In the Philippines as in the world, this has been a great scourge for the working class, which has struggled to maintain regular jobs and mandated benefits amid drive to increase “competitiveness” in the workplace, which simply means lower wages and higher profits for businesses.
What will they do with workers who eventually be driven to poverty due to widespread “wage repression” and unemployment? Capitalism has an even more sinister solution, and this is clear in the context of the Philippines. Even as it exploits the Filipino working class, the Aquino administration knows that it has to maintain a "human face" to mask the intensifying exploitation under his government – something which it learned from the experiences of other neoliberal governments. This was done in the form of social safety nets, like the controversial Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programs that has been criticized by several groups as a "doleout" mechanism. Copied from a progressive measure coming from PT’s Bolsa Familia Scheme in Brazil, which is truly a social reform measure, Philippine’s version of CCT only involves handing out a little more than $30 a month to about 2.3 million families, a scandalously low support to think that the Philippine social welfare department declared it as the “backbone of a modern social protection system”. This just shows how an originally progressive program can be mutated by a capitalist government and used for its purposes.
Urban poor movements such as the Kongreso ng Pagkakaisa ng mga Maralita ng Lunsod (KPML) has thus been at the forefront of the struggle against CCT. Raising the fact that CCT was in fact, financed by a loan from ADB – it insists that CCT only involves transferring money from the future poor to the present poor – since the future poor will have to pay for it through debt service. KPML called CCT as “giving alms to the poor” and a “bandaid solution” that does not address the real problem, which is rising prices and lower wages.
At all fronts – from the ideological to concrete battles – Filipino socialists struggle to win gains versus capitalism: smearing black patches in the face of a defunct system while building the patches of green for a new, pro-people, pro-worker system. In this struggle, our agency for organization, the trade union, has been indispensable even as it is under attack by capitalism. In the Philippines as in the world, innovative means to dismantle unions such as contractualization, labor flexibilization, outsourcing and newly invented employer-employee relations have been deployed by capitalists in full force, but they have failed to erase the concept of unionism and solidarity. Clearly, union as a form of labor unity and expression of dissent remains to be relevant.
But we cannot be complacent. We have to reinvent the union as an organization. We should not be limited to unions at the firm level as our sole form of organizing the working class. We should explore intra- and inter-industry federations, unions of displaced workers, and other innovative organizational schemes. If capitalists can innovate means to disorganize labor, the working class should also have tricks on its sleeve to unify the workers as well as the middle class in the fight for progress.
Aside from innovation in labor organizing, we must not forget a cardinal rule. As the experience of all socialist nations today, the eventual victory for the working class has been preceded by the transformation of the union from an economic to a political organization. Unions, or any other organizational expressions of organize labor, should attempt and succeed at seizing political power. This is what Russia and Latin America did. This is what Filipino workers are now emulating, positioning PLM as a political party that can serve as a focal point of political pressure – just as a magnifying glass would concentrate countless number of sunrays into a one potent laser beam.
History is now on the side of the workers. But a capitalist crisis alone will not usher the age of socialism. The resurgence of fascist forces in the United States in the form of the Republican Party and its Tea Party movement, and in Norway in the person of Anders Behring Breivik – the right-wing who bombed government buildings and perpetrated a mass shooting at a camp of the Workers' Youth League (AUF) of the Labour Party – is enough to warn us that our victory is far from inevitable. But if the emergence of right-wingers like Breivik and the Republican Party or capitalist deodorants such as Barack Obama or Benigno Aquino has anything to teach us, it is this:
Society has to choose now – capital or labor, barbarism or socialism.