Lili and the other bar hostesses at Pinky's Basement are angry.
Just a few hundred yards from the main gate of Clark Air Base, Pinky's Basement is one of about 300 bars and clubs that have stood empty for the past 10 days, while a blockade by striking Filipino workers at U.S. military facilities has kept most of the bases' 16,000 servicemen locked inside.
Lili blames the base workers' union -- which barricaded the gates to Clark, Subic Bay Naval Base, and six smaller U.S. facilities in the Philippines -- for ruining business in Angeles by pushing the base commanders to declare the country's liberty-town nightclubs off limits to GIs.
Lili says she is so angry that she joined other bar girls, taxi drivers and street vendors in driving off the union's picket line during a rock- and bottle-throwing assault last night. "The strikers only think of themselves -- not about the others in Angeles," Lili declared, "and their blockade is leaving us to go hungry."
The 10-day-old strike is seen as the first manifestation of an expected revival of organized labor in this country under the new government of President Corazon Aquino. The strike also underscores the social tensions created in an impoverished country when a powerful source of prosperity, such as a major U.S. military base, creates or enlarges a local middle class.
According to union members and local politicians, this strike is the most bitter dispute ever between the U.S. military and its Filipino labor force. The talks for a new three-year contract have been stalled since early February, when Defense Department officials rejected a union demand for severance pay.
The U.S. side has refused any further negotiations on the demand as long as the workers block access to the bases. Philippine police fired warning shots today to keep both the strikers and the protesting bar girls away from Clark's main gate -- but the union marshalled large crowds of strikers at the gates to Subic Bay to counter any similar protest by angry local merchants there.
An unconfirmed report by the Philippine News Agency said President Aquino would intervene in the strike to ensure U.S. access to the blockaded bases. The agency, which cited no sources for its report, said Aquino had given the assurance in a meeting with Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff -- but Crowe told other reporters that he and Aquino had not discussed the strike.
A joint labor committee of senior U.S. Embassy and military personnel and Philippine Labor Ministry officials was due to meet Tuesday to try to break the deadlock, following the failure of a similar attempt last week. Appealing directly to the workers via local Armed Forces Television, the U.S. commander at Subic Bay warned tonight that if strikers did not return early Tuesday, he would be forced to order an approaching task force to divert to another naval base.
He said this would cause short-term layoffs for some base workers and cost the local Philippine economy about $1.5 million in spending by U.S. sailors on shore leave.
As Philippine police kept the gates at Clark open to a sparse flow of U.S. military personnel in and out, bitter union workers watched from the shade of a broad ceremonial archway near the main entrance.
The union president, Roberto Flores, accused Clark officials, American and Australian bar owners in Angeles and the city's police today of conspiring to foment the bar girls' protest. He said U.S. officials had recruited "goons" to cause trouble on picket lines at Subic -- charges denied by Clark Air Base spokesman Maj. Thomas Boyd.
The standard of living for U.S. military personnel at overseas bases, is far beyond that of local Filipinos and has clearly spurred the economic ambitions of Filipinos who work within the American enclaves.
Union members such as Noel Tayag, a striking graphic illustrator, use the American standards as their own goals: "We see our best paid workers, people like architects and lawyers, with advanced degrees, are making about $1.75 an hour, while the lowest ranking airman makes three or four dollars," he complained.
"The Americans set our wages according to what we could make in the local economy -- but we're doing equal work here and want more equal pay," he said.
Rose Mayores, a film librarian at Clark, is one of the strikers attacked by the bar girls yesterday. Like Lili at Pinky's Basement, she says she is angry, too. Mayores is proud of her college education and her professional skills, but she says she is doing the same work as Americans on the bases for only one-seventh the pay.
Tayag added, "The bar girls and shopowners don't understand that they will benefit, too, from our strike because if we make more money, we'll spend it here."
For their part, the much poorer owners of small shops, bar girls and street vendors of Angeles and similar liberty towns are resentful that the middle-class union workers are making them pay for the labor battle. "Striking's one thing, but they went too far by blocking the base," said Robert Turner, a passenger jeep driver who earns about $6 a day shuttling workers and American dependents on and off the base.
"We're all making zero right now, and that means people are going hungry," he said.
The resentment is not merely over money. "Bar girls are human beings, too," said Lili, at Pinky's Basement. "When we protested at the strikers, they shouted that we were only mad because we want sex with the GIs," she said angrily. "What kind of language is that to give to bar girls?"