Indonesian trade union leaders to tour

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Indonesian trade union leaders to tour

By Pip Hinman

SYDNEY — Plans are well under way for the national speaking tour, from August 8, of Indonesian trade union leader Dita Sari.

Dita's tour, organised by Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET), will be her first international trip since being released from prison.

Dita, who was released on July 5, had served three years of a five-year sentence. Her "crime" was to organise workers in Indonesia to fight for their democratic rights.

Dita is already well known among Australian trade unionists and progressive activists. She has visited Australia three times, twice in 1994, when she addressed the Indian Ocean Trade Union Conference as a leader of the Indonesian Centre for Labour Struggle, and once in March 1995, when she was invited by the International Women's Day Collective in Perth to speak at its annual rally.

This time, Dita will be representing a new workers' confederation, the Indonesian National Front for Worker Struggle (FNPBI), which held its inaugural congress in May. Dita, who was in prison at the time, was elected president.

Also on tour during August is Romawaty Sinaga, head of the international relations department of the FNPBI.

The FNPBI has adopted as national campaign demands: a 100% wage rise; the lowering of prices; an end to all sackings; heavy penalties for employers who break the laws; freedom for all political prisoners; an end to the political role of the armed forces; an end to violence in politics; the establishment of a transitional government and an end to the violence and oppression in Aceh; and a referendum for the Maubere people in East Timor.

The FNPBI opposes the oppression of any group in society and has called on workers to take a lead in the struggle for democracy. In her message to the congress, Dita urged workers to build an organisation that would not only defend their immediate interests, but would also help workers to "take up their political responsibilities".

Dita first became interested in politics when studying law at the University of Indonesia. She attended her first demonstration in 1992 and soon after began to attend classes organised by Students in Solidarity for Democracy in Indonesia (SMID), which was then operating underground.

She also began visiting factories to find out about workers' lives. "I started to realise that the issues revealed by the students must also be the issues of the people", Dita recalled.

On her decision to leave university, she said at the time, "I don't believe in law any more. Law here is without any real content. I could not stay any longer, sitting at a university desk listening to all that empty talk. I think my trade union work is far more important."

Dita is a central leader of the People's Democratic Party (PRD), which was officially launched as a legal party during the June 7 national election campaign. Until then, since 1996, the PRD had been forced by the Suharto dictatorship to organise underground. Before 1996, it organised in the form of student and worker organisations.

The PRD has been at the forefront of organising students and workers to take action for their democratic rights. A number of organisations, including the former PPBI, SMID and the National Peasants' Union, are affiliated to the party.

The PRD has succeeded in popularising the demand that the military withdraw from politics and is now calling for former dictator Suharto to be put on trial for crimes against humanity.

Dita was released shortly after the military opened fire with rubber bullets at point-blank range on 2000 unarmed protesters in Jakarta. The July 1 demonstration, organised by the PRD, was demanding that Golkar, the ruling elite's party, be disqualified from the elections for fraud.

A peaceful assembly had marched to the electoral commission office and, after refusing to leave, was fired on. Seventy-six people were badly injured and many were hospitalised.

Dita believes that her release was related to this shocking attack. Following extensive international and national media coverage of the Indonesian military's brutality on July 1, the regime needed a face-saving gesture.

This is one of their tactics to try to reduce the political pressure on them, Dita said. But it won't work, because Indonesian democracy activists are determined to keep up the pressure until their demands are met.

Australian solidarity activists also have a part to play. For the details of the public meetings with Dita Sari, see the advertisement on this page. For details of Romawaty Sinaga's meetings, ring ASIET in your city (see advertisement on page 15).