Miles Quero KiLUSANG mayo uno

"We only have one life, so we should use it wisely."
Miles Quero never planned to become a labor leader. While studying international affairs at the University of the Philippines, she was initially drawn to filmmaking. It was only when she joined a student council that she was exposed to the struggle that workers face in the country. After graduating, she went to work in a printing factory where she learned firsthand what being a woman in the factory means. According to Miles, even having education about the issues workers face couldn’t prepare her for what it was like to enter a factory herself.
“[Working in a factory] made me more resolute in fighting for change rather than accepting the status quo.”

Miles began to make documentaries exposing labor rights violations and detailing the lives of workers. In factories in the Philippines, health and safety violations are common. In documenting one case of a factory safety hazard, Miles interviewed the mother of a worker who had died in a factory fire. The mother had refused to speak to media or to anyone else, but when she saw that Miles and the union were truly dedicated to pursuing the case, she decided to speak out on factory safety in honor of her son. The company attempted to settle the dispute with a large payout, but the mother refused. Instead, she kept fighting for occupational health and safety reforms.

The story is part of what inspired Miles to work with Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU). KMU is an independent and democratic labor center promoting genuine, militant, and anti-imperialist trade unionism. Kilusang Mayo Uno translates to May First Movement, and was founded on May 1, 1980. Current membership is around 115,000 members, composed of industrial, service and agricultural workers.

“I got where I am today by making a choice, an informed choice, it was a commitment to serve the workers better. It was hard work, a lot of calculated patience, and a lot of defiance from different people.”

KMU takes specific action to address the increased levels of exploitation and abuse that women workers experience. “Women workers not only experience disproportionate levels of physical violence,” Miles says, “They endure daily economic violence as well.” That economic violence comes in the form of lower wages, short-term contracts, and repression of trade unions. In line with the principle of mobilizing women workers’ power, KMU maintains a dedicated program for women workers. The program goes beyond training women to organize around workplace issues: it facilitates dialogue and action around the oppression experienced by women inside and outside of the workplace. Participants are trained on how to bargain with employers, utilize grassroots organizing strategies, and develop their leadership styles to win organizing fights. The program also has a focus on combatting both domestic and workplace violence. Women are trained on how to respond and advocate should they personally experience violence or confront violence against their coworkers.

“This continuous education program for women workers is effective because these women were taught every day to be silent to follow, to behave, to work hard and be patient. But this program helps you unlearn this. You learn the historical struggles of women workers, and the context for your own life.”

At KMU, Miles joined educational programs and discussion groups. Miles says she is not sure if she would still be in the struggle without the collective support of her fellow unionists: “There’s a cultural and industrial complex that tells a woman she should be tied to her domestic duties, her family and children, her employment contracts, government laws, no matter how unfair or abusive. But, along the way, you learn to defy those rules and make the rules for yourself.” A strong community support structure is critical for taking that first step.

Now, Miles serves as Secretary of International Affairs for KMU, coordinating the center’s international solidarity efforts with allies across the globe. In her role, she coordinates campaigns in solidarity with garment workers, organizes protests and rallies, and helps other women learn their political rights the way she did. She knows the value of using a diversity of tactics to affect change; in addition to her organizing work, she is still a filmmaker and cinematographer, and makes movies about the grassroots labor movement in the Philippines.

“Working in factories, especially those who produce for multinational corporations, takes too much time away from family, children, rest, politics, labor organizing. The only way to take back those hours is to fight for them. I hope that there will be more women workers who start to organize and unionize, because it’s the only way to take back those hours.”

photos courtesy of Kilusang Mayo Uno and ILO under creative commons.

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