Author: Manuel L. Sarmiento

School of Labor and Industrial Relations (UP-SOLAIR)

University of the Philippines


Pinoy in Austrian Society for Integrity

Reforms and Social Transformation (PINAS FIRST)


Migrante International

Austria Chapter

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The essential purpose of the trade union is to secure for the workers the

best price (salary & wages) that can be obtained under prevailing market

conditions. For the trade union to evolve into an economic, social and

political force in the transformation of society, it must act deliberately

as organizing centers of the working class in the broad interest of its

complete emancipation and there must be a political party that will guide

them in the pursuit of such role.


Thus, the first point is, the trade union movement should be united and

adopt a radical and revolutionary perspective in order to be more effective

as an economic, social and political force.


The second point is, in both countries, political parties played a

significant role in the transformation of the trade union movement.  The

political parties were very helpful in their struggle not only on trade

union issues but also on political issues.  The leaders in the trade union

movement were also the leaders of the political parties.


Nationalist industrialization played historical role, the third point, in

creating and providing adequate employment in Austria. It played an

important factor in the successful harmonious IR system for the last four

decades. In the Philippines, the attempts to industrialize the economy in

different ways was derailed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) -World



A strong political pressure from the trade union movement fighting for

national freedom and democracy is urgent and necessary to pressure the

Philippine government to get away from subscribing the IMF-World Bank

prescription of development.


The trade union movement in Philippines should learn from and establish

contact with the Austrian Trade Union Confederation (OGB), the social

partner recognized by the Austrian government and the sole and exclusive

bargaining agent in all collective negotiations.


I. Introduction and the Three Significant Points


This article was a product of 26 years (1976-2002) experience as a trade

union activist of this author and his four  years (2000-2004) academic 

exercise at the University of the Philippines School of Labor and 

Industrial  Relations  (UP-SOLAIR).  These  three significant  points  in 

his   opinion  are  crucial   to   attain  a  harmonize  relations   between

and  among  actors  in  industrial  relations system.  These   are:  1)  

evolvement  of    trade  union  movement  as  an economic,  social, and  

political    force,  2)  expressive   role   of   political   parties   and 

its influence in the evolvement of trade union  movement  as  an 

economic, social  and  political  force,  and 3) degree  of  nationalist 



The question might be asked: why is it that despite the century old effort

of trade unions to improve the situation of workers in the Philippines,

workers are still as pitiful as ever unlike in other countries like Austria,

where the workers have relatively better conditions?  Is it due to the

differences in the trade unions’ structure, characteristics, and strategies?

  Is this situation the result of the on-going globalization?


These are the few questions that still linger in the minds of ordinary trade

union activists, that despite their perseverance in working for and

strengthening their trade union organizations, why is it that the workers’

situation is not improving and in fact it is deteriorating?


If one looks at the history of trade union movement in the Philippines,

trade union leaders have been exerting all their efforts to strengthen

workers’ organizations to gain better benefits for the workers.  In the

early times, there was the militant Union Obrera Democratica (UOD), the

Congress of Labor Organization (CLO) and others.  Now, the Kilusang Mayo Uno

(KMU), a militant, nationalist and progressive trade union center is

spearheading the P125.00/day wage increase as well as the recognition and

improvement of other trade union and democratic rights.


The works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels have been in the movement since

1922 and had been and still influencing the ranks today, although in varying



The issue of nationalist industrialization must be likewise be probed deeper

and further because the number of regular jobs every year is decreasing and

the current industrial firms are not enough to provide jobs to the working

class. How the Philippines can do away with IMF-World Bank prescriptions

that contributed to the devastation of the economy for five decades already

is a big question mark!


Perhaps it is best that the Philippines emulate the experience of the

Austrian OGB that was formed in 1945.  It passed the Nationalization Act in

1946, and since then, workers are provided much needed jobs.  This will

provide a solid base on trade union organizing work.


The  historical background of the two countries’ trade union movements was

reviewed in order to the discover of  the forces involved in the evolution

of the trade union movements in the two countries.


The Three Significant Points


The paper  sought to  answers  following  important questions:


1. How did the trade union movements in the Philippines and in Austria

evolve?  What are the essential characteristics of the trade union movement

as an economic, social and political force?


2. What are the expressive roles played by  political parties affected in

the evolution of the trade union movement into an economic, social  and

political force?


3. What  historic role  nationalist  industrialization  played to harmonize

actors in industrial relations system?


Significance of the Paper


This discussion is very significant to trade unionists, to Industrial

Relations (IR) and Human Resources Development (HRD) practitioners, as well

as to academic scholars in labor and industrial relations and government

agencies. For trade unionists in the Philippines, the lessons drawn from the

comparative analysis will be very helpful in formulating future programs of

action, especially on what is to be done in order to unite the labor front

in the Philippines and attain the same level of success of the Austrian

trade union, which influenced the transformation of Austria into a welfare



A study of this nature is important to Industrial Relations and HRD

practitioners. Also, the same importance can be given to academic scholars

and government agencies as it helps them understand the role of trade unions

in national development. This is also a necessary reference in formulating

and drafting bills and resolutions in Congress.


This work will also contribute to the development of the field of industrial

relations as it furthers the formulation of industrial relations theories

and those related to labor movements. The comparative method entailed in the

study will contribute to the discernment of patterns of similarities as well

as differences in the two trade union movements that were the targets of

this research. This in turn will provide inputs to validation and/ or

reformulation of existing theories.


Scope and Limitation


The work covered only the trade union movements in two countries: the

Philippines and Austria. In the Philippines, there are several trade union

centers covering the spectrum from right to left: Trade Union Congress of

the Philippines (TUCP), Kongreso ng Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Pilipinas

(KPMP), Federation of Free Workers (FFW), Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino

(BMP), Confederation of Independent Unions in Public Sector (CIU), Alliance

of Progressive Labor (APL), Confederation for Unity, Recognition and

Advancement of Government Employees (COURAGE) and Kilusang Mayo Uno Labor

Center (KMU). While in Austria, there is only one trade union center, the

Austrian Trade Union Confederation (ÖGB).


This is a comparison of the trade union movement experience in Austria and

the Philippines. The methodology used is limited to secondary and primary

data gathered through questionnaire, answered by selected trade union

leaders via  self-administered email and face-to-face meeting and focus

group discussions with key informants.


II. Analytical Framework


The history of the Philippine trade union movement had already passed three

stages (Wurfel 1959).  The first stage was the period of repression, from

the late 1800s up 1907. The second was the recognition stage (1908-1935)

through the creation of the Bureau of Labor and was only possible because of

the untiring organizing efforts of the workers under the first federation

the Union Obrera Democratica (UOD) (Sibal 2002). From 1908 to 1935, there

was no clear IR process propagated by the colonial government. From 1936 to

1953, the period of regulation and protection, there were several IR

processes introduced and implemented by the government. These were:

compulsory arbitration, collective bargaining, conciliation, mediation and

voluntary arbitration. It was during Martial law in 1972 that tripartism was



To appreciate better the history of the trade union movement in our country,

it has to be analyzed, and compared with the history of the same movement in

another country. The analysis is based on the concept of political economy

in industrial relations which, according to Hyman (1975) is …


The continuous relationship of conflict, whether open or concealed, it stems

from a conflict of interest in the industry and society which is closely

linked with the operation of contradictory tendencies in the capitalist

economic system.


The development of both trade unions in the Philippines and Austria has more

or less passed similar stages in different time and space. Historically,

similar occurrences happened in the development of both trade union

movements- from the recognition of trade union organization, to the

influence of other countries and political parties, and approaches used in

consolidating and mobilizing more protest actions.  There is a tendency

within the movement of forming bread and butter (“yellow” unionism), which

is a splitist tendency. The normal reaction in times of war and fascism was

to go underground and for limited time remain silent in the open mass



Hyman defined IR as a study of processes of control over work relations.

Among these processes, those involving collective worker organization and

actions were of particular concern. Through collective agreements, trade

unions were able to share power with management, hence an unceasing power

struggle was a central feature of IR.


Although the Philippine and Austrian histories did not end in the same fate,

the Austrians were able to accomplish something they were proud of. They

were able to unite the trade unions and established one umbrella

organization that existed up to the present. In turn, this umbrella

organization influenced the establishment of a welfare state. On the other

hand, the Philippine trade union movement is still attempting to unite their

ranks. Hyman commented on the structure of trade union. …


Established institutions become a focus of loyalty in their own light, and

sustain powerful vested interest in the perpetuation of traditional forms

and practices. Thus the structure of trade unionism is in many respects

ill-adapted to the realities of contemporary industry or to workers’ own

consciousness of their problems and interests; yet it constrains the manner

of their response to these problems, and to this extent  is an important

obstacle to the capacity of the labor movement to exert positive control

over industrial relations.


Furthermore, Hyman contended that….


Trade unions are organizations which consolidate and mobilize the collective

powers of workers and they apply this power   largely to influence the

programmes and decisions of employers. A power relationship is central to

industrial relations: each party pursues strategies which are partly

affected by the initiatives and responses of others.


In Austria, the trade union center represented by the Austrian Trade Union

Confederation, is recognized as their social partner in their corporative

industrial relations system and is the sole and exclusive bargaining

representative of all workers: a clear manifestation of power relationship.


Trade unionism is primarily reactive because of the right accorded to

management in capitalism to direct production and to command the labor

force. Unions can win some improvements in workers’ condition, protest

successfully at individual decisions, and impose certain general limits on

managerial prerogative. But as long as they maintain a primary commitment to

collective bargaining, they cannot openly attack the predominant right of

the employer to exercise control and initiate change (Hyman 1975).


In this light, Marx commented (as cited by Hyman)


Trade unions work well as centres of resistance against the encroachments of

capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of power. They fail

generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla war against the effects of

the existing system, instead of simultaneously trying to change it, instead

of using their organized forces as a lever for the final emancipation of the

working class, that is to say, the abolition of the wage system (1958:447)


Hyman wrote that trade unionism served as a countervailing structure of

control, which restricts and in some respects neutralizes the dominance of

employer. Hyman further noted:


Thus the historical development of trade unionism has revealed strong and

mutually reinforcing obstacles to democratic control. Yet it would be

over-simple to conclude that an irresistible and irreversible ‘iron law of

oligarchy’ is involved in this process. The variations between organizations

in terms of both policy and internal democracy demonstrate that

counter-pressures can in some circumstances prove significant. And the most

crucial among these is the practice of workers themselves.


Foremost, under the political economy framework, the State (government) was

but an extension of the political apparatus of the ruling class

(bourgeoisie) or, …”The executive of the modern state was but a committee

for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie” (Marx and Engels,

1958:36). Hyman noted that the state consisted not merely in the machinery

of government, but also in the relationship of the latter with the ‘civil

society’ – the network of social, economic and cultural institutions and

relations all of which reflected in different ways the predominance of

capital and its agents. He quoted this famous arguments of Marx and Engels

in The German Ideology:


The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the

class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its

ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material

production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of

mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those

who lack the means of mental relationships are subject to it. The ruling

ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material

relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence

of the relationship which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the

ideas of its dominance.(1970:64)


Hence, any action or assistance from the government are all, in the final

analysis, against the trade union.  Finally, under the present dispensation,

the trade union movement may have become strong and unified, or centralized

under one umbrella organization; still, they are under control by the

representative of the other class, the bourgeoisie, and the conflict in

industrial relations would just be an area of regulation and accommodation

between the two actors, the workers and the employers.


III. Discussion of the Three Significant Points


1. Evolvement of Trade Union Movement as an Economic, Social and

Political Force in Society.


The contribution of the trade union movement in influencing society had been

noted as early as 1900. David North (1998) in his paper, “Marxism and the

Trade Unions,” described the characteristics of workers’ organization as



The trade unions represent the working class in a very distinct

socio-economic role: as the seller of a commodity, labor power. Arising on

the basis of the productive relations and property forms of capitalism, the

essential purpose of the trade union is to secure for this commodity the

best price that can be obtained under prevailing market conditions.


However, North noted that there are oppositions to this description and



That opposition, moreover, is focused on the socialist movement, which

represents the working class, not in its limited role as a seller of  

labor-power, but in its historic capacity as the revolutionary antithesis of

the production relations of capitalism.


In relation to the preceding discussion, Marx suggested that….


Apart from their original purposes, they must now learn to act deliberately

as organizing centers of the working class in the broad interest of its

complete emancipation. They must aid every social and political movement

tending in that direction. Considering themselves and acting as champions

and representatives of the whole working class, they cannot fail to enlist

the non-society men into their ranks. They must look carefully after the

interests of the worst paid trades, such as the agricultural laborers,

rendered powerless by exceptional circumstances. They must convince the

world at large that their efforts, far from being narrow and selfish, aim at

the emancipation of the downtrodden millions.


Furthermore, Marx sought to impart to the trade unions a socialist

orientation. He warned the workers


‘not to exaggerate to themselves’ the significance of the struggles engaged

in by the trade unions. At most, the unions were ‘fighting with effects, but

not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward

movement; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady.’ It was

necessary for the unions to undertake a struggle against the system that was

the cause of the workers' miseries; and, therefore, Marx proposed to the

trade unions that they abandon their conservative slogan, ‘A fair day's wage

for a fair day's work’ and replace it with the revolutionary demand,

‘Abolition of the wages system.’


North’s paper evaluated the history of the trade union movement in two

countries, England and Germany, and it yielded important lessons and

insights. He summed up his paper as follows:


The proletariat is the active historical subject of the socialist project.

But socialism did not, and could not, arise directly out of the working

class. It has, so to speak, its own intellectual history. Marx never

pretended that his conception of the historical tasks of the proletariat

conformed to whatever might be the general ‘public opinion’ of the vast

majority of workers at any given moment in their development.” And finally …

“that the destiny of mankind is inescapably intertwined with the struggle

for the development of socialist consciousness and culture within the

international working class.


The Philippine Experience


The actual strike in 1989 in the Philippines proved that only through

concerted actions, economic and political gains are possible. Scipes’

account in this regard is as follows:


The strike that began on May 23, was totally unleashed on May 26, and it

maintained that level of power until May 30. In some factories, workers

continued their strike until May 31, and 16 companies in Cebu struck on June

1, after a mix up in their timing: this included the 10,000 workers at Atlas

Mines, the largest copper mine in Asia.


Forty percent of the striking unions – 208 in Metro Manila and 54 in Central

Luzon – maintained their picket lines for five days. And more that 80% of

all striking unions stopped work for at least two consecutive days.


Altogether, these activities – which ranged from full-blown strikes to brief

walkouts, attendance at rallies and marches, work slowdowns or partial

stoppages- cost over 5 million worker-hours as over 500,000 workers in over

700 firms in industry, transportation and service companies made their

positions known. Over 60% of all active unions in the country joined the

strike, including unions affiliated with labor centers that are competitors

to the KMU. Companies in industries like garments and textiles, food, metals

and metal products, drugs, chemicals and steel were hit hardest. Workers’

actions also affected bus and shipping lines, export crop plantations,

mining and electronics firms, department stores and hospitals” (Scipes



Because of the above, the government was forced to raise the national

minimum daily wage by P25.00. The final settlement gave raises to all

workers currently earning less than P100.00 a day:


? workers in industrial firms and large plantations received an

additional P25.00 per day;

? those in medium-sized plantations received P20.00 per day, and

? agricultural workers and workers in small-scale industries received

an additional P15.00 per day


Workers earning over P100.00 a day, a category generally limited to workers

employed in multinational corporations, were excluded from the raises as the

government was unwilling to penalize foreign investors who play a central

role in the Aquino government’s economic policy. Still, it was the largest

single increase in the national minimum wage in the history of the country

(Scipes 1996).


In exchange, the government was allowed to establish the Regional Tripartite

Boards of government, management and labor representatives that would set

minimum wage rate levels for each region.


Apart from the economic gains, strikers won extensive political gains:

workers forced the Aquino government to violate its own declared wage

policy; workers rejected policies imposed on the government by the

International Monetary Fund and the World Bank; and workers repudiated the

repressive labor laws signed by President Aquino in March 1989. Most

importantly, these activities demonstrated that only through large-scale

mass struggles could workers and peasants improve their standard of living

and democratic freedoms (Scipes 1996).


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