Indonesia: Thousands rally on May Day

Tens of thousands of Indonesian workers commemorated May Day across the country demanding an end to contract labour and outsourcing, and for May 1 to be declared a national holiday.

This year's rallies were largely peaceful — unlike last year, which saw a violent clashes in Jakarta between police and workers angered over government attempts to revise the 2003 labour law to further undermine pay and conditions and to facilitate the sacking of workers.

Police deployed some 18,000 officers across the capital with an additional 22,000 fanning out across the greater metropolitan area.

Several rallies were held simultaneously in Jakarta at the national parliament (DPR), the ministry of labour and the presidential palace. In addition to condemning contract labour and outsourcing, protesters also accused the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) and Vice-President Jusuf Kalla of allowing foreign companies to exploit local workers and strip Indonesia of its natural resources.

"The government is not pro-people or pro-labour. We have oil, gold mines — but they are owned by foreigners", the activist told around 10,000 workers during a rally at the presidential palace.

The rally was also joined by a contingent of transvestites, gays and lesbians who said they are discriminated against in the formal sector. "In the end many are forced to work in the informal sector as prostitutes. We are demanding that they be allowed to work in the formal sector", said action coordinator Rido Triawan.

Around 5000 workers from the Greater Jakarta Indonesian Metal Trade Workers Federation (FSPMI) also marched from the Investment Coordinating Board to the DPR.

Large rallies were also staged in most of Indonesia's major cities. In the Central Java city of Solo, hundreds of protesters from the Workers Challenge Alliance (ABM) held an action opposing contract labour and calling for a May 1 national holiday.

In the nearby city of Sukoharjo, some 2000 workers rallied at the Regional House of Representatives (DPRD) voicing similar demands. Also in Central Java, victims of mass dismissals in Yogyakarta demanded payment of outstanding severance pay.

A separate rally in Yogyakarta almost ended in a clash when protesters from the Yogyakarta People's and Worker Alliance (ARPY) were harassed by members of the Anti-Communist Front (FAKI) and the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). The groups accused the ARPY of being infiltrated by the National Liberation Party of Unity (Papernas), which they claim is a reincarnation of the banned Indonesia Communist Party.

Thousands of workers took to the streets in the Central Java capital of Semarang in a massive rally at the DPRD and the governor's office. Student activists from student executive councils, the Indonesian Islamic Students Movement (PMII) and the National Student League for Democracy (LMND) also rallied, demanding that abolition of labour contract systems, wage increases and the introduction of pro-worker policies.

As many as 10,000 workers besieged the DPRD in the East Java city of Gresik. In the provincial capital of Surabaya, hundreds of workers and student activists from the Indonesian National Students Movement (GMNI), People's Power, and the Indonesian Youth Front for Struggle (FPPI) held separate protests across the city calling for increase wages and an end to contract labour.

An ABM-led protest by factory workers from Malang, Sidoarjo, Gresik, Pasuruan, Mojokerto, Jombang, Kediri and Jember made similar demands. Jamaluddin from the East Java chapter of demanded a standard national wage, saying: "The working contract system or outsourcing, which [is one source of] injustice, has to be wiped out."

In Jember and Kediri, workers together with activists from the Independent Journalist Alliance (AJI) emphasised the importance of the struggle for justice in Indonesia.

A demonstration by thousands of workers in the West Java capital of Bandung was treated to an unexpected display of "sympathy" by police, who handed out hundreds of boxes of bread and water. Police declined to say whether the gift was a "bribe" to ensure that the workers behaved themselves. Rallying later at the local labour office, protesters rejected contract labour and demanded that workers' rights be respected and that the law on labour affairs be upheld.

In Banten, West Java, around 10,000 workers protesting at the DPRD blockaded the main provincial highway resulting in severe disruption to traffic.

In the North Sumatra capital of Medan some 5000 workers from the North Sumatra Trade Union (SBSU) and the Indonesian Prosperous Trade Union (SBSI) rallied at the DPRD demanding improvements to workers' welfare and that May 1 be declared a national holiday.

Around 1000 workers also made similar demands in the South Sulawesi provincial capital of Makassar.

Protesters in the Balinese capital of Denpasar protested against the marginalisation of workers in the tourist industry, arguing increasing foreign ownership of tourist related businesses was being followed by rationalisation and downsizing.

Similar rallies were held in other major cities, including Kupang in East Nusa Tenggara, Palembang in South Sumatra and Bandar Lampung.

The first ever May Day commemorations were also held in Aceh. Acehnese protesters said that global capitalism has resulted in workers becoming even more oppressed and sacrificed for the interests of capital.

Speaking before a rally at the DPRD, labour activists called for improvements to workers' welfare, and end to contract labour, wage increases and the abolition of "invisible" fees. They also demanded rights for women workers, such as menstrual leave, maternity leave and transport services for women working at night.

They called on the government to provide free and quality education and health care for the people; boost investment in order to wipe out unemployment; and increase Indonesia's economic competitiveness. "[But] if the investment that is developed does not provide welfare to the Acehnese people, then there is no need for investment", said Rahmat from the Poor People's Democratic Association (PDRM).

Speaking at a news conference in response to the rallies, Kalla — who has been a key mover behind recent a push to again try to revise the labour law to introduce more "market flexibly" to attract foreign investment — tried to belittle the demands by focusing on the issue of a national holiday.

"These [demands] are difficult to meet because labor is a profession", Kalla told Tempo Interactive. "All professions like farmers, soldiers and teachers [could] also ask for their own national holiday." "Even journalists will ask for a holiday", he said.

In relation to contract labour, Kalla said it was a necessary part of many industries. "It's impossible for companies to have a large quantity of permanent workers", he said.