Indonesian farm workers reestablish peasants' union


By Emily Citkowski

YOGYAKARTA — More that 80 Indonesian farm workers and organisers met here on June 25-27 to re-establish the National Peasants' Union (STN — Sarakat Tani Nasional). This was the STN's second congress. The founding congress was held in 1996, before the July 27 military crackdown, but the organisation had to cease activity due to political repression.

Congress participants established an organisational structure, adopted a political program, set out long-term and short-term goals, discussed the current political and economic situation, and elected a leadership.

Congress attendance was overwhelmingly farm workers, with students and full-time organisers in the minority. Representatives came from 68 villages in seven provinces: Yogyakarta; East, Central and West Java; Lampung; North Sumatra; and Sulawesi. National membership of the STN is estimated at around 80,000.

Many of the farm workers who attended have a long history of activism. When Suharto came to power in 1966, Pak Budhi, STN's new president, paid for his previous political activity with 15 years in Buru Island prison camp. A few years ago, Nonha Sartika, one of the few woman STN organisers, led a strike in Lampung of thousands of farm workers. The strike was violently attacked by the military.

Masrin, a coffee plantation worker, organised 3000 of his co-workers in Lampung to take over and collectivise the plantations they work on. The coffee workers used to own the land, but 10 years ago the government forced them off of their land to set up government and privately owned plantations.

Last September, the Dewan Tani Lampung (the Lampung STN affiliate) occupied the coffee plantations. When the police, and then the military, tried to break up the occupation, the workers resisted and took six ABRI (Indonesian army) members hostage. The soldiers were released later. In November, the government sent representatives to the area; they too were taken hostage and then released.

Although each of the farmers owns a part of the coffee plantation, it is farmed collectively. The coffee is sold in the open market and the profits shared equally.

At the congress, STN activists discussed the difficulty in recruiting members who have given their support to liberal opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri and believe that democracy has come to Indonesia. Until these illusions are broken, the STN believes, the recruitment of farm workers will be around economic demands, which will then politicise them.

The congress decided that the immediate tasks of the STN should be to join members and establish village committees wherever possible. The STN will produce a biweekly national newspaper to be distributed by STN committees. New members will be educated about the political and economic situation in Indonesia and internationally.

STN will work with students, workers and other groups in the democracy movement, and mobilise members for demonstrations.

The program of the STN includes demands such as: land and tractors for the farmers; subsidies for tools and fertilizer; lower prices for manufactured goods and increased prices for agricultural products; raise the minimum wage by 100%; free health care for work-related injuries and illnesses; abolish farm taxes; stop illegal sackings; stop military violence against farm workers; end the involvement of the military in the political system; build a united democratic movement; stop military repression in Aceh and West Papua; and freedom for East Timor.