Indonesian workers begin to organise

October 16, 1991

Workers in the western region of Jakarta are beginning to organise. Recently a number of large strikes have occurred in the region. The Suharto regime and the army have reacted by infiltrating every community and workplace. In Jakarta, MIKAEL HIDAYAT interviewed three workers: N, M and W.

How did the workers of West Jakarta begin to organise?

N: This organisation began in March 1989. At first it taught the labour laws to other workers. Then one of the members made contact with a student group, and through this association the students and workers started a publication about the condition of Indonesian workers.

This publication is written by the workers and distributed for the purpose of educating other workers. This also helps communities educate themselves in the basics of reading and writing.

The publication also serves as an example that there are positive and concrete steps that workers can take to organise in defence of their basic rights.

What are your priorities?

M: At this point the main aspect of our work must be to raise the condition of the workers and to organise them against their exploitation. This is achieved primarily in two ways. Firstly, the workers' cooperative, which aims to solve some of the workers' most basic economic problems. The second is educational activities. The workers discuss and learn about their own conditions and problems and the labour laws. They also learn why the situation is the way it is.

Could you describe the working conditions in West Jakarta?

M: The wages range from Rp1200 to Rp1600 (A$0.80-$1.08) per day. This is below the minimum wage set by the government for this region, which is about Rp2100. The working conditions are extremely bad. The shop floor is dirty, very hot and dusty. There is no health protection, like masks or ear plugs, and often it is extremely noisy.

There is no labour insurance, and we have to work overtime, often without pay. Many workers have to work on holidays. If the place of work is far away, often a worker will have to spend up to half his daily wage on travel.

Recently the workers of West Jakarta were involved in a number of large strikes. Following this two workers were sacked.

M: There have been two large strikes in West Jakarta. The first was at Makmur Sejahtera [company]. The workers wanted to raise the wage and to set up a branch of the government trade union [Indonesia's only legal trade union] SPSI. They also wanted some form of labour insurance. To fight for this, they went on strike.

The state apparatus, the police and they army intervened to break up the strike. However, in the negotiations the workers succeeded in the SPSI.

The second strike, however, failed. This strike took place at Nugraha Mitra Jaya [company], and this time the workers wanted to raise the wage. The workers first met with the management to request a wage rise. The management was not interested in their request.

The workers decided to go on strike. As soon as this happened, the management started to intimidate the 11 workers' representatives. When this happened all the workers, about 130, went to the local legislative council.

Again the military and the police intervened, with the aim of forcing the workers to negotiate. The military, the police and the Department of Labour all supported the management.

Next the military arrested five workers and interrogated them in the military headquarters, where they were forced to spend the night.

The striking workers were forced to the negotiation table, where all except one worker signed a solution that had been prearranged by the management. This worker was sacked. Now the workers are organising to take his case to the Department of Labour for compensation.

It appears difficult to overcome the barriers that prevent the participation of women. How is the organisation approaching this problem?

W: This problem is difficult to solve in our society because men and women are so unequal. Usually women are not involved in organised activities. Previously there were three women involved in this organisation; however, when they got married they left the organisation.

We still do not know exactly how we are going to overcome this problem. However, we emphasise that women are important for the future of the organisation and the struggle. We are very conscious of the organisation's need for the participation of women.

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