By James Balowski
For almost a week, thousands of workers from a garment factory, PT Great River Industries (GRI), in Bogor, West Java, have organised a wave of strikes and rallies in pursuit of better wages and conditions.
The protests, jointly organised by the Centre for Indonesian Labour Struggle (PPBI) and Student Solidarity for Democracy in Indonesia (SMID), began on July 18, when 6000, mostly women, workers arrived at the GRI factory but refused to begin work.
Despite the deployment of large numbers of factory security personnel and military, and attempts by the government-controlled All Indonesian Workers Union (SPSI) to persuade workers to let them "mediate" their demands, by mid-morning the crowd had swelled to 13,000 and began marching to the Bogor parliament.
Protesters were able to reach the parliament and force their way past more than 100 anti-riot police, but as they attempted to enter the parliament building itself, a number protesters were badly injured. Eighteen people were arrested, including the general secretary of PPBI, Dita Sari. They have now all been released.
Strikes continued the following day. Then, at a second rally on July 20, some 2000 workers and students again took their protest to the Bogor parliament. Only a small number of security personnel were present. On July 21, and again despite a massive security presence at the factory since early morning, striking workers organised another rally at the Department of Labour.
Strikes in solidarity with the GRI workers were also organised in the industrial zone of Bekasi in West Jakarta, where several thousand more workers went on strike and hundreds joined a protest march to the local parliament.
As the strike continued though the weekend, military and factory security personnel began a campaign of intimidation and terror in and around workers' living areas — attempting to force them to return to work and to "dissuade" them from joining a second rally at the Department of Labour planned for the following Monday, July 25.
The intimidation seemed to have little effect, with only 45% beginning work on Monday morning; even then, the factory gates had to be locked and guarded to prevent workers from leaving. In a last-minute attempt to stop the rally, the military went so far as to begin intercepting buses on the route, forcing public transport drivers to take an alternative route into the city.
When the initial group of 50 workers reached the Department of Labour, the grounds were already filled with waiting troops, who attempted to arrest a PPBI organiser, Wilson. After a brief struggle, he was able to break free.
More protesters arrived shortly afterwards bringing the crowd outside to around 400, but by this time, the gates had been locked and they were unable to enter. Five delegates were eventually allowed to speak with department officials, who agreed to facilitate direct negotiations between workers and the GRI management. Protesters were then allowed to leave without incident and proceeded to the Indonesian Democratic Party offices for a press conference.