“The fight for our rights does not stop at this historical triumph. We will join forces with other workers in other factories experiencing the same working conditions and capitalist suppression—especially now that we have once again proven the power of strikes.”
Read also: What prompted Coke workers to strike
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — “To everyone who patronizes Coca Cola products, please remember the workers who toil day and night, who pour their sweat and blood to deliver these products. As you drink each glass of Coke and quench your thirst, please remember those who thirst for their rights, those who thirst for justice—the workers who thirst for life.” This is the statement of Fernando Avelino, president of UMDFP-CCBPI-IND (Unyon ng mga Manggagawang Driver, Forklift Operator, at Picker sa Coca Cola Sta Rosa-Independent), as they braced, on the second day of their strike (May 21), for a looming violent dispersal of their picketlines.
On May 21, the management of multinational subsidiary Coca Cola-Sta. Rosa (Laguna) secured from the Regional Trial Court-Biñan a Temporary Restraining Order, citing “damages” inflicted by the strikers. The court has given the workers’ union 72 hours to lift and remove their picket. If not, the Philippine National Police threatened to assist Coke management in forcefully removing the workers’ picket at its factory gates. In Laguna, such threats came with bloody memories of past, violent demolition of other workers’ picketlines. Union presidents in other global companies such as Coke which have subsidiaries and plants there, led by Nestlé, have been extra-judicially killed; the company gates transformed to military garrisons against strikers. As such, when strikers say they have to brace themselves, it was like keeping their ground on a trench they know would be under attack soon. The company usually brings an armada of guns, teargas and steel-tipped truncheons. The workers’ only weapon, they said, is their unity, and the support of the community and other workers.
Fortunately the Coke workers’ strike did not end on bloodied ground – the union and the management signed a settlement on the third day of the workers’ strike, a day before the court’s 72-hour ultimatum was over. It was “a breakthrough,” said Herminigildo Marasigan, spokesman of Pamantik-TK, the regional labor center of Kilusang Mayo Uno to which the strikers belong. The workers declared the strike victorious.
Around 500 workers and supporters held a solidarity night on May 22 in gratitude to all supporters. On May 23 at 7 a.m., they conducted a victory march from the Coca Cola plant to Balibago Complex in Laguna. More than 200 workers and supporters participated.
Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines, Inc. (CCBPI) has 23 production plants all over the Philippines. Its Sta. Rosa plant is its biggest production plant, employing some 1,000 workers aside from the 300-strong union of drivers, pickers and forklift operators.
What the workers have won through strike
On May 22, the union, represented by its president Fernando Avelino, signed with their legal counsel a settlement with the Coca Cola management, represented by its Human Resources Director for the Asia Pacific Region Juan Carlos Dominguez. According to Pamantik, the agreement includes:
(1) The workers under the UMDFP-CCBPI-IND will be absorbed as regular employees of CCBPI within 3 months from the date of signing;
(2) Once the employees are absorbed, they are automatically entitled to the benefits provided for by CCBPI, the CBA or company policies;
(3) The review for absorption will commence on May 27, 2013 where CCBPI will be represented by Labor Relations and Social Development Manager Antonio Apale, and the union will be represented by 3 representatives;
(4) Financial assistance will be given to all consisting of P15,000 financial assistance, and P9,000 rice allowance tax-free. Said amounts will be given on or before June 15, 2013;
(5) The union will lift the picket starting 7 p.m. of May 22, 2013; and
(6) The parties agreed not to have retaliatory actions against each other.
Though happy with the strike’s conclusion and thankful for the determination and courage of workers, union president Avelino said the settlement provisions “are but a meager part of the multinational Coca Cola Company’s total assets amounting to $86,174,000,000 or P3,447-billion, with a declared 6% volume growth during the last quarter of 2012.” And this paltry amount, he clarified, had to be fought for with a strike, otherwise Coca Cola “would not be obliged to give it to the workers.”
He vowed that they will remain firm in their principles, and their ranks “will even more be vigilant until Coca Cola fully implements the provisions of the agreement.”
“The fight for our rights does not stop at this historical triumph. We will join forces with other workers in other factories experiencing the same working conditions and capitalist suppression—especially now that we have once again proven the power of strikes,” Avelino said.
Marasigan told Bulatlat.com that once again, they have proven that when workers unite to defend their legitimate rights, nothing is impossible. He said that thanks to the workers’ determined and widely supported strike, “the state and the capitalists are compelled to recognize and abide by the already recognized workers’ rights.