An inspiring insight into Indonesia




Made in Indonesia: Indonesian workers since Suharto
By Dan La Botz
South End Press, 2001
395 pages, US$18
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Radical US writer Dan La Botz creates scenes of Indonesia in Made in Indonesia that are so real that you feel like you are there, sitting next to him in the crowded train as he travels to the office of the country's independent trade union federation, the Indonesian National Front for Labour Struggles (FNPBI).

Not only does this book provide an insight into the history and present of Indonesia, you also get a chance to get to know the people helping to shape the country's future. Anyone interested in the struggle for democracy in Indonesia should definitely read this book.

Made in Indonesia promises to explore the situation facing Indonesian workers since the fall of the dictator Suharto, but it does much more.

From its time as a Dutch colony, to independence and the rise and fall of the Suharto military regime, the Indonesian people's journey through history is covered in a digestible way that does not overwhelm the reader. In this way, La Botz provides the background to the situation workers in Indonesia now face.

As a result of the political space created by the downfall of the Suharto dictatorship, there has been "the birth of new independent unionism". La Botz has met with activists from every union that he has reflects upon in his book.

The smaller unions are discussed, but he concentrates on each of the largest independent unions: the Indonesian Prosperity Labour Union (SBSI) and the more radical FNPBI.

The SBSI has support, including financial, from labour unions in Europe. It has a vision of a national federation of industrial workers. La Botz interviews SBSI leader Muchtar Pakpahan.

The SBSI has many problems to face, such as Pakpahan's dominance of the union. Even though the national leadership bodies are between one-third and a half female in composition, the union's atmosphere is one of male dominance with Pakpahan at the head of this. Another major shortfall of the union, as put forward by La Botz, is that it is modelled on European social democracy: it does not challenge the social system as a whole, only wanting to reform the repressive parts of it. La Botz also raises concerns about SBSI's bureaucratism.

The exciting aspect of Made in Indonesia is its featuring of the Peoples Democratic Party of Indonesia (PRD) and Dita Sari, a member of the PRD, FNPBI's founding member. La Botz allows us to gain a real sense of the union's commitment to social and economic justice — he describes how activists are "living and working in the offices day and night". La Botz outlines the unions strength — its militancy — and its weaknesses, mainly its student base.

During the last year of the Suharto regime, Dita Sari was the only woman political prisoner. She was imprisoned for subversion after organising a 10,000-strong union rally. As she speaks to La Botz, you get a real feel for the humble human being who has suffered three years in Suharto's jails (she was tortured) and her drive to continue the struggle for a just society.

La Botz dedicates a chapter to the PRD, the only radical political party in Indonesia. "The PRD presents a radical vision of working people and citizens democratically organising both the economy and politics. Though they themselves do not use the word, some would call such a vision revolutionary socialism", he writes.

In the epilogue, titled "Socialism from Below", La Botz asks, "What are the essential steps to solving Indonesia's enormous economic problems?"

He replies: the cancellation of the Indonesia's US$100 billion foreign debt; the expropriation and nationalisation of the wealth of the Suharto family and his cronies; and the Indonesian people gaining their right to control their country's banking system, its industry and foreign trade.

La Botz calls on the readers to help ensure that a just Indonesian society comes into being.

From Green Left Weekly, March 6, 2002.

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