Interview with Ka Nitz, Filipina leader in the labor movement

Earlier this year, a comrade traveled to the Philippines to meet-up with organizers and comrades. He conducted an interview with Ka Nitz, a women leader of labor union Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU).

You can find the full transcript below the video.

Ka Nitz: “Good afternoon,

I am Ka Nhitz Gonzaga, vice president for women, Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). As you have heard the experiences of several women leaders this afternoon, that is the situation of women workers. Women workers are composed of something like eight percent of workers in the Philippines. Most of them are contract workers. Those who are being paid a little higher than contract workers have unions. So, on this onset I would like to urge the women workers: form a union for your benefit! Don’t be afraid to form a union. Being a contracted worker has struggles. And having a union has struggles. You have to fight for the union, for your benefit. That is my call to the women workers.

You know, we have been organizing contractual workers, but they are very hard to organize. Because after five months, you do not see them anymore. So, what I urge the organizers is to perform solid organizing. Solid organizing is that you don’t only see the union women workers in the factory or in the mall, but you meet them in their houses. Because whenever they are dismissed from their jobs, you know where to find them. You know their houses.

And in solid organizing you have to be friendly. Not only with the workers but also with the family. Whenever you cannot go home, they will let you sleep in their house. Whenever you do not have money to eat, they will let you eat in their house. And the relationship between the organizer, the worker and the family will be very solid and close. That is the only way I think to organize contractual workers. You not only have to tell them that unionizing is good for them. You have to to earn their respect. You have to get their confidence. That is solid organizing.

I am 77 years old and I have been dealing with women workers. They come and go. You have them, then they are dismissed, they find another job and you do not have them within your grasp [anymore]. But those who are become to be leaders are those who are very close. Those of whom you know their house, know their family, you know everything in them. And your relationship is very, very close. Like relations. And there is no way, there is no road for the workers, especially the women workers but to unionize.

It is very futile that every five months, starting from being a teenager, every five months, every five months, every five months of your life until you are 25 years old. Nobody wants to hire you anymore because there is a coming group of teenagers. They don’t know how to fight. They are very greenhorn. The management can do whatever with them. What they know is to give a portion of every salary to their parents and the other part is for their marriage-making. You understand that? But when you reach the age of 25 years, you already have a boyfriend, you want to settle down, you want to have a family. But then you do not have work anymore. Because by the time you are old enough to ask “why am I receiving this kind of salary? What shall I do?” So, you form a union. You are mature enough to form a union and the management does not want you anymore. That is the faith of the workers. Not only of the women workers. But most vulnerable are the women workers.

After they don’t find jobs, they are on the sidewalk selling drinks. Or they go to foreign countries being an OFW (Overseas Filipino Worker). And even in foreign countries, they are being victimized. So, being a leader of women, I find there are women workers who are very ready to fight. They are very strong. They are ready to fight. But usually, the Filipino women are shy, they are reticent to hold office in the union. So I urge them to grab the leadership in your union. Because the women usually understand the problems of the workers. They understand the problems of their jobs. And they are very pain-staking in their jobs. Also, if a woman, or a woman worker, is groomed, they have education, they have leadership, they are very strong.

You saw the experiences of the women workers, especially the BPO’s (Business Processing Outsourcing). Everybody thinks they are being paid a much higher salary, but the truth is that they are being deprived of the fruit of their jobs. Once more I urge the women workers to form a union. Do not be afraid to form a union.

I have been with the KMU for a long time. This is my first and last job. Right after school, I became the office secretary of Felixberto Bert Olalia, one of the great labour leaders and the first president of KMU. And I was hone to appreciate this kind of job although I tried to find a job but it did not inspire me. I like this job. Only here, if you a fulltime job here in the KMU, you have to have a simple living. Simple living. Not ostentatiously living. And I find my more than fifty years with the workers, with the KMU very satisfying. I am now 77 years old. I dom’t plan to retire. I retired in my job, in my position, but I’m still here. I do not plan to sleep at home. I am always in the mobilization, rallies and in education. And KMU is a poor organization but true to the workers. It is a very, very nationalist organization.”

Question: When you started organizing, what was one of the first campaigns that you did?

“That was in… no, I was a victim of the martial law. I was incarcerated for how many months. I was not very politicized then. But they planned to make me… how to do you call that? To devise what I know? Because I am afraid. But no, I did not do that. After that I requested to become an organizer. I was still working as an office secretary [for Olalia] every Saturday. My first union where I learned to be an organizer was the Glorious Sun workers, makers of t-shirts. The population there [in that company] is more than six thousand! I learned a lot there.

I compared that job to other jobs and thought ‘maybe I can progress outside’. I became an insurance agent. With that job I earned much more. But I was not satisfied. So I quit and I went back to to NAFLU [National Federation of Labor Unions of the Philippines]. KMU did not exist yet. From then on, I stayed here [in the union].”

Question: What beholds the future in terms of the fascism that is coming from the government?

“Especially with this Duterte government, not only for women workers but all women. He [Duterte] has a very low regard for women. You can see it whenever he speaks on women. Women are like a painting to Duterte. That is why the GABRIELA [National Alliance of Women’s Organizations in the Philippines] and KMU women are organizing much more and divulge what kind of president Duterte is. I am also a member of GABRIELA because the Trade Union Women are inside GABRIELA.

I am speaking to women, not only in the Philippines but all over the world. Women should not confine themselves to their home. Although the woman is needed in every home, they should try to educate themselves to know the politics of their country. And try to learn to organize. And when you are educating yourselves and organizing, you should also mobilize – AOM: arouse, organize and mobilize. Because what will you do with your education, with your organizing, if you don’t mobilize? Duterte’s government only understand it when millions of people walk in the streets against him. But if you are a coward in your home, your office, you do not go out and tell what kind of president he is… well, you won’t win. You will always be a coward. So not only the men but also the women; the country needs you!”

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