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The military, violence and the workers' movement

As the use of the military to suppress workers' demonstrations in Medan in April, 1994 and on May Day 1995 indicates, the Indonesian armed forces have a permanent role in helping the Suharto dictatorship control the workers' movement. This involvement is based on specific government decisions and sometimes goes beyond the routine harassment and beatings. There have been a number of cases where it is suspected the military had carried out pre-meditated murder of activists.

The following reports look at the formal basis for the military's involvement in workers' movement affairs and reviews some cases of assassinations, inclding the infamous case of the murder of woman worker activist, Marsinah.

Military intervention in industrial disputes was legitimised in 1986 by Department of Labour Decree 342/1986, passed by the then Minister of Labour, retired Admiral Sudomo. The decree allows the military to intervene

"...particularly in cases pertaining to strikes, work contracts, dismissals and changes in the status or ownership of a company".

It permits the involvement of a wide range of institutions including Pemda (Local Government), Kodim, Polres and other security agencies.

Furthermore, it authorises these institutions to keep workers under surveillance during strikes; to participate in negotiations; and to detain, arrest and interrogate workers. In effect, it enables them to intimidate workers -- most often forcing them into signing letters of resignation.

Military involvement escalates

As the number of strikes have escalated so has the degree of military intervention. Between January and November 1992, 193 strikes occurred in West Java and Jakarta with 50.3 percent concerning issues of poor wages and conditions. In 1992, 155 strikes were recorded in East Java with 74.6 percent pertaining to wages and conditions.

A statement released by LBH (Lembaga Bantuan Hukum, Legal Aid Institute) Surabaya on human rights in East Java indicated that of the 59 strikes which took place there in 1991, intervention by the military (Kodim, Korem (Regional Military Command), Polda, Polwil (Territorial Police), Polres, Koramil and others occurred in as many as 61 percent of cases. The following year this increased to 73 percent. (Koel; 1.1993)

For the authorities the problem has been further compounded by the effectiveness of industrial action in forcing companies to comply with workers' demands.

Although workers have been killed in past disputes, this has occurred usually during confrontations with the military. The Marsinah case is considered to be the first instance of a premeditated killing. As well as arousing widespread community concern over the issue of military intervention, it has been viewed by many as ABRI (Angkatan Senjata Republic Indonesia, Indonesian Armed Forces) "raising the stakes" as harsher and more extreme methods become necessary to control worker demands.

In an article in the July 16, 1993 Jakarta Post, Arist Merdeka of Saluran Informasi Sosial dan Bantuan Hukum (Social and Legal Aid Information Channel, SISBIKUM), said that interference has been widespread and is "systematic and organised".

"The combination of money and guns, or business and the military makes a perfect marriage" he said.

Headed by Komala Dewi, a 50 member delegation of 26 NGOs presented a petition to the ABRI fraction (F-ABRI) of the DPR (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat, Indonesian Parliament) on 15 July. The delegation presented details of 77 instances of military involvement in industrial disputes at the Kodim or Polres level. The delegation reminded F-ABRI of the promise made at a meeting of ABRI Commanders to act as the "peoples army".

Military must be involved

A. Siswadi, an F-ABRI member who met with the delegation, responded by saying that "ABRI cannot avoid intervening in the name of stability, the problem perhaps is its approach. ABRI as part of the people will always use approaches that are acceptable and humane when settling disputes that could disrupt national security." (Jakarta Post 16.7.93). He did say however that he would consider a judicial review of decree 342/1986 to determine if it conflicted with higher laws (Media Indonesia 17.7.93).

On 23 August, a team of four prominent lawyers lead by Abdul Hakim Garuda petitioned the Supreme Court requesting the repeal of the Decree. The team was formed by the Forum for Labour Solidarity working with the Study and Advocacy Institution, the aim of which is to uphold and improve the rights of workers.

Hakim said that the decree conflicted with Law number 22/1957 which recognises the right to strike and Law number 12/1964 which acknowledges the right to collective bargaining.

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