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1995 May Day demonstrations

Worker protests relaunch the May Day tradition

On a historic occasion for the Indonesian labour movement, workers and students took to the streets to demonstrate on May Day for the first time since General Suharto seized power 30 years ago. The actions were initiated by the Centre for Indonesian Working Class Struggle (PPBI) and Students in Solidarity with Democracy in Indonesia (SMID).

The actions were aimed at re-establishing the May Day tradition, as well as launching a national campaign for an increase in the minimum wage from $3 a day to $4.50, a little closer to the figure needed to keep people alive and healthy.

The campaign is also demanding freedom to organise and the release of all political prisoners, including union leader Muchtar Pakpahan who was still in gaol at the time. In Jakarta, 100 workers and students formed a delegation to deliver their demands to the Ministry of Labour.

In the East Javanese city of Semarang, 1500 workers and students rallied under the PPBI-SMID banner. The rally was savagely attacked by the police and military. Sixteen workers and students were detained, including Lukman, the national director of PPBI, and Petrus Haryanto, secretary general of SMID. Several workers were severely beaten on the street.

Organisers arrested

In Jakarta, as the delegation peacefully left the Ministry of Labour, the military picked up Dita Sari, general secretary of PPBI. When it was discovered that Dita Sari was arrested, the workers tried to re-enter the ministry. Four other PPBI organisers were arrested in the ensuing fight.

On May 2, PPBI and SMID sent a delegation to the National Human Rights Commission to protest against the arrests and beatings. More protest demonstrations were held on campuses in Yogyakarta and Solo.

The next day, Dita Sari, Petrus Haryanto and the 19 other activists were released from jail. According to SMID president Munif Laredo, "The workers were very badly treated. They were savagely bashed; their heads were smashed up against the prison walls. At least one has been hospitalised in Semarang."

Solidarity and protest messages were sent by Indonesia Solidarity Action - Aksi (now ASIET), Resistance, Community and Public Sector Union (ACT branch), Australian Electrical, Electronics, Foundry and Engineering Union (WA branch), the ACT Trades and Labour Council and United Workers of the Philippines.

The arrests and bashings have now been followed up by hostile statements made by the Suharto dictatorship's puppet union, the All Indonesia Workers Union (SPSI)

May Day not legitimate

In comments reported in the Indonesian newsweekly Gatra, Bomer Pasaribu, Secretary General of the SPSI, stated that the actions by the PPBI on May 1 were "not legitimate". He said that May 1 was a date commemorated only by the Old Order government of President Sukarno before 1965.

According to Bomer, President Suharto had declared Feberuary 20 as National Workers Day with Presidential Decision No 9, 1991. Bomer also told Gatra that the PPBI demonstrations used a "communist pattern" and seemed to be aimed at "agitation in the May Day style". The millionaire minister of labour, Abdul Latief, backed up Bomer statements that the May Day actions were organised by a "third force" -- although no details were forthcoming.

The SPSI also issued a statement condemning the demand for a wage rise to Rp7000 as "irrational". The dictatorship recently increased the National Minimum Wage form Rp3000 to Rp3800. The PPBI argues that Rp3800 falls way below what is needed to meed workers minimum physical needs.

The PPBI's view was backed up by a statement issued by Indonesia's most established human rights body, the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute Foundation (LBH)

On May 8, YLBHI issued a statement condemning the SPSI's attack on the PPBI demand as exhibiting a desire that "workers remain at a subsistence level". They stated that this kind of statment was not unusual coming from a "corporatist workers control body such as the SPSI" and that it also reflected a manouvre by elements in the SPSI to gain further favour with those in power.

Minimum wage calculations flawed

The LBH argued that it was clear that all the many strikes of the past year -- 1,130 in 1994 -- were a response to inadequate wages. They stated also that even the new official minimum wage was below workers actual expenditures for survivial. The stated that the official calculation of Minimum Physical Needs (KFM), which was used to fix tne new minimum wage, was flawed.

Firstly, argued LBH, the basket of goods is the same one defined 40 years ago and has not been updated to meet modern standards.

Secondly, even this basket uses wholesale prices to calculate workers' needs and not the much higher retail prices operating at the stalls and kiosks where workers must buy their goods.

Thirdly, there is no input into the decision making process on the KFM from any workers or workers organisations.

The LBH also noted that Indonesia had the lowest wages in the region. According to a recent report by the private research agency, Crosby Research Ltd., the hourly wages data showed the following comparison: Indonesia 28 US cents per hour, China 54 cents, Philippines 68 cents, Thailand $1.17, Malaysia $1.80, Hongkong $4.21, South Korea $4.93, Singapore $5.12, Taiwan $5.46, and Japan $16.91.

LBH also pointed out that many employers had gone on record to say that they could pay higher wages if other high cost components of their activity could be reduced, in particular, bribes that have to be paid to the bureaucracy. LBH stated that most businesses estimated that such costs amounted to 30% of overall production costs, compared to 10% for wages.

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