Indonesian labour activists arrested

Wednesday, September 13, 1995

By James Balowski

On September 6, around 1000 workers and labour activists rallied at the national parliament in Jakarta. They were demanding an improvement in working and living conditions, and better resolution of industrial disputes.

Almost immediately, troops from the West Jakarta Military Command attempted to break up the rally by charging the crowd and seizing seven of the activists, who were taken away to a security post for several hours before being released.

The activists were from the independent trade union, the Centre for Indonesian Labour Struggle (PPBI), the newly reformed United People's Democracy (PRD) and the national student organisation, Student Solidarity for Indonesian Democracy (SMID).

These organisations have been working for over a year to build the student-worker alliance in Indonesia. Compared to the wild-cat strikes in the late 1970s and early '80s, strikes since 1989 have become increasingly organised and political in their demands and actions. No longer restricted to strikes in the industrial zones, large worker demonstrations are becoming commonplace in Indonesian cities.

Attempts to split this alliance at rallies and demonstrations have become a familiar tactic by the authorities, who deliberately target individuals from one side of the alliance. During the May Day demonstrations in Jakarta earlier this year, workers were abducted and tortured, and told that this is what will happen if they get involved with the students. Meanwhile, the student activists were allowed to go free.

In other cases, such as the Great River Industries strike and demonstrations last September, student activists were also arrested and charged.

Although some sections of the regime are probably aware of the risks that the worker-student alliance poses, what motivates the divisive measures may be something simpler. The regime has a long-standing policy of portraying strikes and demonstrations as the work of some unidentified third party or provocateur, and members of the military and police may simply be getting caught up in their own propaganda.