Day 4: Conversations with a PISTON Member
On my fourth day here I was hanging out at the national office of Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), a militant labor center in the Philippines that is affiliated with BAYAN, where I met a member of PISTON. PISTON is a transport workers union that organizes for the rights of tricycle, jeepney, bus drivers, and other types of transport workers and is one of the unions affiliated under KMU.
The PISTON worker is originally from Hacienda Luisita, a place which I visited last year during an integration with Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, but came to Quezon City some years back to be with his wife and to help organize in the transport sector that he was working in.
We talked over lunch in the back room of the KMU office where PISTON members were cooking some rice and grilled egg plant mixed with some onions, tomatoes, garlic, and soy sauce. Many of the KMU national organizers and some of the PISTON members are vegetarian and try to bike to the office often, in order to stay healthier (this is one of the few BAYAN affiliated offices where you will not see people smoking an endless chain of cigerates).
One of the points he stressed with the complete lack of development in the Philippines. “This country is completely under developed politically and economically.”
He gave an example of how this affects the transport drivers and workers. He said because of the underdevelopment there are no local factories that make engines or any type of supplies for either cars, buses, or jeepneys. “Much of the jeepneys’ engines were originally left over by General MacArthur, from World War II.” The jeeps, abandoned by the U.S. Army, had been modified by Filipinos who made them wider and longer in order to transport people (for a fee) around the cities and country side (a cross between a taxi and a bus).
“There are no independent manufactures in the Philippines that employ Filipinos.” All of the cars and buses come mostly as surplus from Seoul or Tokyo.
He also talked about the semi-feudal system of the country and how much of the power is held in the hands of land lords and national bourgeoisie who have interests in keeping the Philippines underdeveloped. In Hacienda Luisita, where he’s from, much of the farm work is still done by hand with almost no help from machines. The land lords are able to keep a system of subservience with the peasants by loaning them even simple tools such as shovels for high interest rates.
“But, maybe, in the future, things can get better.” He said, giving examples of some of the organizing drives PISTON has done to try and make the lives of the transport workers better and how PISTON has always keep an anti-imperialist line and does not separate its work from politics.
“If there was not KMU there would be not PISTON.”