Before the historic EDSA 1 uprising took form in 1986, there were already democratic protests which resembled People Power even a decade earlier. One of these crucial pre-EDSA 1 demonstrations of solidarity is the La Tondeña strike of 1975, which significantly broke the deafening silence of the metro under the dictatorship.
Defying the protest ban during the Marcos dictatorship, around 800 workers of then Palanca-owned La Tondeña distillery in Tondo, Manila launched a paralyzing strike on Oct. 24, 1975 as they called for an end to contractualization. In particular, they demanded the regularization of contractual workers, as well as the reinstatement and regularization of all fired contractual workers. Amid the overwhelming presence of the military and goons, the workers stood their ground for at least 44 hours to assert their demands.
The workers deplored in their strike manifesto how they were being hired for eight weeks, only to be terminated from their jobs and rehired again as contractuals. They also decried the inaction of the Department of Labor (DOL) over their case.
(to see the full manifesto, click here)
“May 30 beses kaming nagpupunta-punta sa NLRC [National Labor Relations Commission] at daan-daan sa amin, kahit mga buntis, ay naglalakad buhat sa Velasquez hanggang Intramuros dahil sa kawalan ng pera,” the La Tondeña workers said in their manifesto.
In the course of the three-day strike, nuns, priests and seminarians stood guard and held a vigil, supplying food for workers and distributing manifestos to passers-by. Student leader Edgar Jopson, former president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines, also supported the workers’ strike.
Such demonstration of courage and solidarity inspired other workers in other factories to launch protest actions. Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) chairperson Elmer Labog said that the work stoppage in La Tondeña opened the floodgates for similar protest actions that covered not just individual factories but entire zones. The strikes during that time, according to him, numbered about 700 and crippled the dictatorship.
Hundreds were arrested in La Tondeña alone. Their strike proved to be successful nevertheless as the management gave in to some of their demands, including the regularization of around 300 workers. On a larger context, the strike tore down Marcos’ autocratic ban on protest actions and signaled the outburst of more daring protests, culminating in general strikes up to the People Power uprising in 1986.
As they proclaimed in their October 28, 1975 manifesto:
“Subalit hindi nagtatapos dito ang aming pakikipaglaban. Ang mga problema naming manggagawa ay higit na mas marami pa kaysa problema lang ng pagiging regular. Ang totoo’y nagsisimula pa lang kaming lumaban.”