Asia Brewery Workers Defy
GMA’s Strike Freeze
Lucio Tan’s beer, a matter of national interest?
The labor department
has assumed jurisdiction over a strike staged by workers of Lucio Tan’s
Asia Brewery in Cabuyao, Laguna. Since when has beer, the unionized
workers cry, been a matter of national interest?
BY DENNIS ESPADA
STRIKE: Asia Brewery guards prepare to dismantle picket (left);
A guard moves to hit a worker
CABUYAO, Laguna – The machines of
alcoholic beverage firm Asia Brewery Inc. here ground to a halt at 6 a.m.
last Oct. 4. Around 200 workers then walked out of the factory and staged
a picket in front of the company's main gate.
An hour later, elements of the Sigasig
Security Agency under retired Air Force Gen. Manuel Caranza fired water
cannons and beat protesting workers with wooden clubs. This scene was
repeated on Oct. 5 and 11 as the guards forcibly took their tents,
streamers, a megaphone, motorbike and P10,000 ($177.57, based on an
exchange rate of P56.315 per US dollar) cash.
Workers knew the risks, as shown by
their experience in the recent past. In Aug. 1994, they clashed with the
military as they stood their ground denouncing the management's union
busting and unfair labor practices.
Rodrigo Perez, president of the Tunay
na Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Asia Brewery (TPMA or Genuine Unity of
Workers in Asia Brewery), said the union elected a new set of officers
last June 26 to chart a new direction in their collective struggle for
higher wages and other benefits. He said that even if they had
accomplished the legal requirements for the recognition of the union the
management continued to deny the union’s right.
Beer, a matter of national
In their manifesto, the striking
workers said that Jose Manuel Miranda, the union president who preceded
Perez, was expelled through a recall election. They accused Miranda of
conniving with the management and the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) to
discredit the duly-elected union officers.
"We are demanding the management to
reopen talks for our collective bargaining agreement, to recognize the
legitimate union leaders, to bring back our two colleagues who were
unjustly dismissed, and to end all forms of harassment against us," Perez
Perez also questioned the DoLE’s issuance
of an Assumption of Jurisdiction (AJ) last December 2003. He argued: "The
AJ is unjustified because it only covers labor disputes that are
indispensable to national interest. Asia Brewery is a beer company. Since
when have beers become a matter of national interest?"
Asia Brewery, a company that also
manufactures distilled water, glass bottles and plastic crates, is owned
by Lucio Tan, reportedly the 12th richest man in Asia.
While increased taxes on so-called
"sin products" are being proposed in the wake of the country’s fiscal
crisis, recent data from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)
revealed that Asia Brewery, starting from an initial capital of P200
million, has already accumulated a net profit of P12 billion.
Tan is still facing a tax evasion case
worth P27 billion for failure to pay his dues from 1990 to 1992. The
Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) stated that Tan's Fortune Tobacco
Corporation has incurred unpaid debts in the form of ad valorem,
excise, income and value-added taxes. Last July, the Supreme Court decided
to reopen the tax evasion case against Tan after a lower court's dismissal
At the onset of the fiscal crisis,
progressive lawmakers in Congress called on Malacañang to compel tax
evaders like Tan to pay their dues.
The strike marked the progressive
labor movement's defiance to the strike moratorium forged by President
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with employers and a moderate labor group.
“The signing (of the strike
moratorium) is no more than the approval papers to execute the working
class. It is clear evidence that the assumption of jurisdiction, strike
moratorium and the 'no union, no strike policy' are repressive measures to
bring the workers down to their knees,” says Luz Baculo, secretary-general
of the Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Timog Katagalugan-Kilusang Mayo Uno (PAMANTIK-KMU,
or Unity of Workers in Southern Tagalog-May First Movement), a regional
militant labor center.
"In a matter of months, the Arroyo
administration nearly completed the requirements for a de facto
Martial Law against the trade union movement and the workers who are being
branded economic terrorists as the DoLE, Department of Interior and Local
Government (DILG) and the ‘yellow’ unions enforce the so-called industrial
peace," Baculo added.
Lawyer Remigio Saladero Jr., director
of Pro-Labor Assistance Center (PLACE), explained that a strike, being a
basic human right enshrined in the Labor Code, is used by workers to
defend themselves against intolerable exploitation and repression. No
single worker would choose to strike on his own capriciousness.
"The true cause for the disruption of
industrial peace is the continued oppression unleashed by owners of
capital against the working class," Saladero wrote in his column
published in Pinoy Weekly, a progressive newspaper. He also noted
that strikes are an inevitable option for the workers.
"Makasaysayan ang karapatang
mag-aklas o magwelga. Halos lahat ng karapatang tinatamasa ng manggagawa
ngayon ay bunga ng mga welgang isinagawa upang makamtan ang nasabing mga
karapatan. Ang makulay na kasaysayan ng uring manggagawa sa daigdig ay
halos magiging walang laman kung aalisin mo rito ang tungkol sa mga
pag-aaklas na kanilang isinagawa” (The right to rebel or strike is
already a part of history. Almost all of the rights enjoyed today are
fruits of strikes to achieve these rights. The colorful history of the
working class all over the world would be almost empty if strikes they
staged are not taken into account.), Saladero said. Bulatlat
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