The Indonesian National Front for Labour Struggles (FNPBI), the militant trade union federation, organised mass actions across the country on May 1. Pro-democracy groups joined the workers' rallies.
The workers' demands included legalising May 1 as a national labour day. The neo-liberal economic policies being implemented by the government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri were also a target of the protests. The FNPBI was also demanding an end to contract labour, a shorter working week with no loss in pay and a 100% increase in the minimum wage.
Demands for the cancellation of Indonesia's debt were raised, as were call for the abolition of the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation and the World Bank.
The Megawati government immediately rejected the call for May 1 to be legalised, stating that February 20 was the official labour day. This day is marked by the government-approved All-Indonesia Workers' Union (SPSI).
Megawati asked the labour minister Jacob Nuwa Wea to instruct workers not to demonstrate on May 1. The government accused FNPBI of forcing workers to demonstrate and complained about the political nature of protests' demands. Why should workers deal with foreign issues, it has nothing to do with trade union problems, Nuwa Wea blustered.
In Jakarta, the FNPBI and the May Day Action Committee organised 8000 workers to march from three different location to presidential palace. The commitee consisted of 30 trade unions, student organisation and political parties. The left-wing People's Democratic Party (PRD) played a prominent role.
The military attempted to prevent some workers reaching the protest by erecting roadblocks. At the presidential palace, the workers heard political speeches and watched street theatre.
FNPBI chairperson Dita Indah Sari stated that the source of workers' problems are not simply individual company owners but also the government that stands behind them. Workers must realise that the government and its laws also must be resisted.
Sari said that Indonesian workers have waited long enough for the Megawati government to improve workers' conditions. On the contrary, Megawati has cut price subsidies and is selling Indonesia's national assets.
In West Java, the FNPBI, PRD and National Student League for Democracy (LMND) organised an action by 500 workers outside the regional of house of representatives building. Two days before May Day, police arrested 10 organisers who were distributing leaflets and posters.
In East Java, the May Day Action Committee organised the demonstration. Police blocked workers as they marched from three industrial parks and many could not reach the protest. More than 300 worker were beaten brutally by police as they approached the regional parliament. Ten workers were seriously injured and seven people were arrested.
In Denpasar, Bali, 200 protesters from the May Day Action Committee gathered in front of regional house of representatives. In Makassar, South Sulawesi, 1000 FNPBI protesters demonstrated in front of the local parliament. In Medan, 1000 FNPBI members gathered. In Yogyakarta, several hundred workers demonstrated. In Palu, Central Sulawesi, 2200 FNPBI and the Palu Poor People's Front members marched to the local parliament.
From Green Left Weekly, May 15, 2002.
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