Indonesian workers strike over wages

Issue 

By James Balowski

For the second time in two consecutive days, on July 19, thousands of striking workers from a garment factory, PT Great River Industries (GRI), rallied at the regional parliament in Bogor, West Java, for better wages and conditions.

The two days of strikes and rallies, organised jointly by the newly formed independent trade union, the Centre for Indonesian Labour Struggle (PPBI) and the country's largest national student organisation, Student Solidarity for Democracy in Indonesia (SMID), have brought production at GRI's two factories in Cibinong and Cukarang to a stand still.

GRI was started up in 1976 and holds the manufacturing and distribution licences for well-known brands including Arrow, Kenzo, Benetton, Disney, Donna Karan, Swatch and Triumph. Listed on the Jakarta stock exchange in 1989 in 1994, it posted a net profit of $4.72 million, a 21% increase on the previous year.

Protests began early on the morning of July 18 when 6,000, mostly women, workers supported by PPBI and SMID activists arrived at the Cibinong factory and formed a picket line to prevent others from entering. Factory security personal had already been deployed and within half an hour large numbers of military personal had also began to arrive.

The workers demands included a minimum wage of $2.25 a day, menstruation and annual leave, meal and transport allowances, uniforms and the freedom to organise. Their requests for direct negotiations with management were rejected outright; workers were told to channel their demands through the government-controlled All Indonesian Workers Union (SPSI). But at 8am, when representatives from the Department of Labour and SPSI attempted to address workers, they were shouted down with cries of "SPSI is impotent" and "you take bribes".

The crowd, which had swelled to 13,000, marched to the Bogor parliament some 6 kilometres away along the way. Because of its size, the demonstration had to divide into two columns on either side of the road.

Despite attempts by plain clothed intelligence agents to harass and intimidate the marchers, the rally reached the parliament just after 10am where it was blocked by more than 100 anti-riot police in full gear and armed with batons. Although the rally forced its way through, the same troops, reinforced by an additional anti-riot troops, set up a second blockade inside the parliament grounds.

When protesters attempted to force their way into the building, they were attacked by police and in the ensuing scuffle a number protesters were badly injured and several arrested, including the General Secretary of PPBI, Dita Sari who was charged under article 160 of the Penal Code.

Still failing to disperse the crowd, which had now entered the foyer and begun singing the national anthem and chanting slogans, troops became increasingly violent. But it was not until an hour later, after it had become clear that negotiations would not be possible, that the demonstration was finally called off. Eighteen people were arrested, however they have now all been released.

At the second rally on July 20, some 2000 workers and students assembled at the gates of the parliament in Bogor. In contrast to the previous day, only a small number of security personnel were present.

Two members of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI), Sabam Sirait and Soetardjo Soerjogoeritno spoke to the protestors agreeing that the wages demand was "fair" and commenting that if companies refused the "invisible" cost — a euphemism for monies paid to the local military for "protection" and various other unofficial payments to government officials — they could easily pay higher wages.

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