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Manila study conference looks at Marx’s legacy to social movements

Posted on 22 June 2018

Manila — 2018 marks the 200 th year since the birth of the political economist and theorist Karl Marx. This year’s commemoration of his legacy marked a continued interest in his work, which has surged since the financial crisis and the long-drawn economic “recovery.”

Around the world, various conferences and fora have been held to commemorate his thought and influence. In Manila, a Marx@200 Study Conference was held last 13 June, at the University of the Philippines-Diliman. The conference featured papers, video messages and a lively discussion on the ways Marx’s work continues to inform social movements that forward alternatives to today’s neoliberal, monopoly-driven world economy.

Marx and looking at the world economy today

It featured long-time activists such as Antonio Tujan Jr. (Institue of Political Economy, IPE) and Elmer “Bong” Labog (Kilusang Mayo Uno, KMU - May First Labour Movement). They tackled questions regarding production in today’s world economy, and the issues of investment liberalisation to workers’ struggles.

“Southern share of global exports in manufactures increased from just above 15% in the early 1970s to between 60% and 70% in the first decade of the 21 st century,” Tujan said. For him, this “represents an exploitative integration of Southern workers,” into networks led by transnational corporations (TNCs).

Labog,on the other hand, stressed how the “flexibilisation” and liberalisation of labour markets in Southern regions such as Asia drive these corporate networks. In 2018, the International Trade Union Confederation has reported that all 22 countries in the Asia-Pacific have committed violations on workers’ rights, with Cambodia, Bangladesh and the Philippines among the 10 worst countries for workers. [i]

Pio Verzola Jr. (IPE), meanwhile, made headway into a discussion on the role of technological development in the world economy – where automation of parts of production and intellectual property have created even bigger monopolisation of wealth. Recently, the UNCTAD reported that a substantial part of the “surplus profits” of the world’s top 1% firms are from “leading high-technology sectors.” [ii]

Other speakers such as Len Cooper (International League of Peoples’ Struggle, ILPS) provided broad strokes of the tasks confronting today’sworkers’ movements, especially in light of the threat of right-wing repression. Jose Maria Sison, Chairperson of the ILPS, also delivered a message on the continuing need to study Marx today towards resisting the monopoly-led world economy.

Women in struggle

The role of women in social transformation was also prominently featured among the speakers in the study conference.

Citing Marx, Marie Boti of the International Women’s Alliance spoke of the need for the “crucial aspect [of] class” in today’s feminist and women’s movements.For Boti, genuine social transformation cannot be achieved without “women workers [who are] part of the toiling people of the world,” “without our [women’s] participation in the struggles in each of our countries.”

Women in people’s movements, Zenaida Soriano (Amihan and Asian Peasant Coalition, APC) and Eni Lestari (International Migrants Alliance), also suggested how Marx’s analyses informs their respective struggles for economic rights.

Soriano stressed how Philippine peasant organisations’ link with the workers’ movement to develop “political consciousness” as they campaign for farmers’

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