The Three October Movement – Nasional Mass Strike of Working Class in Indonesia

The Three October Movement – Nasional Mass Strike of Working Class in Indonesia

A Sharpening of Working Class Struggle in Indonesia

For the first time in history, after more than 50 years of absence, Indonesia witnessed a nationwide worker strike. It was, MPBI (Majelis Pekerja Buruh Indonesia/Indonesian Labour and Worker Assembly), a board consisted of three biggest federation and nine trade union in Indonesia, that initated the strike and able to mobilised at least two millions from their total six million total members. MPBI claimed that strike took place in industrial areas across all Indonesia main islands, 12 provinces, 37 cities and counties. Those are Jakarta, West Java (Bekasi, Bogor, Depok, Karawang, Purwakarta, Sukabumi, Cimahi, Bandung), Banten (Tangerang, Cilegon, Serang),  Central Java (Semarang), East Java (Surabaya, Sidoarjo, Mojokerto, Pasuruan, Gresik), Riau Islands (Batam, Karimun), North Sumatra (Medan, Deli), South Sulawesi (Makassar), and North Sulawesi (Bitung).However due to the wide support for the strikes by other confederacies and union outside MPBI the strikes also occured at Aceh. The supporting trade unions outside MPBI, especially trade union with leftist outlook are KASBI (Congress of Indonesian Worker Union Alliance), GSBI (Federation of Independent Trade Union), FNPBI (National Front of Indonesian Worker Struggle), and other smaller trade unions outside MPBI, especially a broad alliance with leftist outlook like Sekber Buruh (Workers Joint Secretariat).

Through this strike the working class in Indonesia raised their three main demands: raise minimum wages up to decent level, end outsourcing and the contract employment system, and carry out national social healthcare system. For many years Indonesian working class suffered from deteriorating wage. Eventhough by the number, there are wage rises but compared with even higher price rises of daily goods, what happens in reality is the wage of Indonesian working class keep deteriorating on and on.

The Background behind The Demands

This condition also being worsen by the rapid growth and application of outsourcing and contract employment system throughout the factories across Indonesia for the last ten years. Workers who are being employed under such system suffered longer working hours, lower wages, more extra shifts, less basic rights, no works certainty, and no termination pay when the workers are being sacked. The government keep on repeating old excuse that such system only being applied to limited job field (cleaning service, security, catering, transportation, service in oil and natural gas, and mining sector) and under limited circumstances (only for non permanent job and under total three years of maximum working length). However Indonesia is a country where there is a wide gap between what is being stated and what is being done in reality. The reality is the capitalist use the outsourcing and contract employment system as a tactic to gain enormous profit for company and spare lesser to pay the workers. Thus, the system is being applied not only in sectors limited by government regulations but throughout all sectors of industry instead.

This practice appear in many forms. At least six most common forms tactics of capitalist can be seen. First, there are bosses who employ workers without working contract, some workers even only submit their ID card. After three  months working, the boss called the workers to sign some paper by excuse to lengthen the working contract. Second, the boss employ the workers under trial time for three months and after that they call the workers to make working contract. Third, there are so many bosses who employ the workers by lengthening or extending their contract more than once. There are so many workers who works under such practice by lengthening their contract up to tens of times. By such practice, the capitalists don’t need to change their workers status into permanent workers status or full employment. Fourth, there are many times where the boss make a contract extension after the workers’ previous working contract end. While the government regulation stated that the extension must be conducted at least seven days before the working contract end, in reality there are many cases that the extension being made weeks or even months after that. Fifth form of the violation from the capitalist is, the bosses also try to apply this system to the whole workers they hired. So they’re making excuses that the business is lowering down and the company has lost profit so much since then, therefore they have to give time off the permanent workers for some months. Few capitalist paid the workers in this period but the majority of the capitalist didn’t bother to do so. After few months passed, they would call the workers and say that the factories can not operate anymore and they have to fire the workers with a very small termination pay (pesangon). In reality, after the boss succeeded to fire all the workers who work under permanent employment they start to re-open the factories and hire new workers under outsourcing and/or the contract employment system. Sixth form of the capitalist tactic in Indonesia, and it is also newest phenomenon, is to provide training and education centers. By making such centers, the boss recruited workers and pay very small wages, some even didn’t pay at all. The bosses keep spreading the lies that they are being generous by providing training centers where after the training finished the workers can be employed under three to five years working contract. In reality, the capitalists just don’t want to pay new workers who are under trial and training time and by recruiting new workers from the training centers, the capitalist benefit so much from cheap labours and the capitalists also able to threat the workers who want to quit by stating that if the workers want to quit before five years or three years contract finished, they will be sentenced to pay the penalty as much as their training cost. All these forms of capitalist tactic are making them profits so much from cheap labours eventhough those are violation against the government regulation.

Trade unions activists have been so long making complains of such violations by the bosses. Faced by such complains, the government keep on stating old excuses. Officials of working force department in many cities and counties said that they lacked of sufficient officials to monitor the factories’ practice. While in reality, many officials also have second job as the employer consultants which is explaining where do they stand is. Muhaimin Iskandar, the minister of workforce and transmigration from Soesilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) cabinet also repeating lame excuse, “The workers doesn’t need to launch a strike. If there is a violation by the employer they can settle it down by taking it to the court under PPHI (Penyelesaian Perselisihan Hubungan Industrial/ Industrial Dispute Resolving Court)”. However, most of the times, the court process is very long, and the workers hardly to afford to pay their lawyer. It is often a losing battle for the workers and a victory for the capitalists. In several cases, the workers and trade unions also suffered worse condition when a critical activists being criminalized by the accusation of violating the company’s good will.

MPBI and Events That Inspired Their Call for Nationwide Worker Strike

The MPBI develops under such condition. It is being formed after Mayday 2012 where three biggest trade union confederations in Indonesia held mass gathering at Gelora Bung Karno stadium. It main three confederacies are KSPSI (Konfederasi Serikat Pekerja Seluruh Indonesia/All Indonesia Trade Union Confederacies), KSBSI (Konfederasi Serikat Buruh Sejahtera Indonesia/Indonesia Wealthfare Trade Union Confederacies), and KSPI (Konfederasi Serikat Pekerja Indonesia/Indonesian Trade Union Confederacies). Several other trade unions and trade union federations also involved in MPBI such as FSPMI (Federasi Serikat Pekerja Metal Indonesia/Federation of Indonesian Metal Worker Union).

While the demands of the strike is still reflecting a struggle based on economic perspective there is enormous development both in mass mobilisation and workers’ political consciousness. First, let’s talk about the development of mass mobilisation. The success of mass mobilisation on this nationwide strike inspired by the events that occured before it especially the movement against the rise of petrol price that succeeded forcing the government to cancelled the rise. During such movement working class in Indonesia played very important role alongside student organisations. They prooved that when the oppresed class are united they can win the struggle.

Other moment that also inspired the nationwide strike is Freeport workers strike in West Papua. In Freeport, thousands of workers went on strike for at least four months and when they suffered repression from Indonesian police apparatus, it won supports, sympathies, and solidarities, marked by demonstrations conducted by workers and students across the country.

Some workers and trade union members already conducting strike in several areas. One of the famous example of this is the workers strike in Bekasi and Tangerang where they also blocked the highways that connecting areas around capitol city and causing severe traffic congestion. The workers launced this strike because the capitalist from APINDO filled a lawsuit to cancel the rise of minimum wage rise that being decided by local regents. The workers won the battle when APINDO announced they decided to withdraw from the lawsuits.

First Nationwide Strike in Indonesia for More Than 50 Years

Such kind of events clearly contributed in enormous development occured in what the officials of MPBI called, GETOK MONAS, Gerakan Tiga Oktober Mogok Kerja Nasional, or “The Three October Movement – National Worker Strike”. Across Indonesia, Industrial areas and factories shut, when the workers launch the strike and protest rally. In Jakarta alone, around 800 factories are shut on 3 October. Hundreds of thousand workers also had demonstrations around Presidential Palace, Indonesian Hotel Boulevard (famous spot in Jakarta to conduct a protest rally), Indonesian House of Representative, Ministry of Health, and Ministry of Workforce and Transmigration. During the strike, the workers also march from factory to factory that remained open and demand the workers there to be allowed to join the strike. The harbor and dock workers also play prominent role with the transportation by making blockades in the Tanjung Priok harbor. Some even taking out the batteries out of the trucks engine to make it even more difficult for the apparatus to remove the blockade.

In Batam, 200 factories shut when 40.000 workers in Batam launched the strikes. Eventhough when the workers march to Batam Major office building they are faced with police and army barricades armed with barbwires, shields, and batons, the workers able get in and force the major to meet the workers demands.

In Bekasi, one of Indonesian main Industrial area which hold up to 70% of Indonesian non petrol and gas export, factories were also shut and industries were paralyzed. Since 7.30 in the morning at least 500.000 workers join the strike and protest rally this are not included tens of thousands workers who were also being ‘liberated’ from operating factories to join the strikes.

In Bandung, thousands of striking workers achieved small victory by forcing the local government to meet their demands. This is shown by governor of east java province issuing a temporary moratorium which put end the outsourcing system in 26 cities and/or counties across East Java.

On the other side of the Java island, or in East Java province, at least 30.000 workers from from Surabaya, Sidoarjo, Pasuruan, Mojokerto, dan Gresik, launched a strike and mobilised themselves to rally in the capitol city of East Java province: Surabaya.

More than five thousands workers also launced a stike in Medan, Deli, and North Sumatra. Their struggle there being marked with a clash between workers and factory securities who forbid their workers to join a strike. The rallying workers outside the factories got furious, tear down the fences, and win all the factories workes to join the strike and protest rally.

However in some areas, the protesting workers suffered brutal repression from the state apparatus. In Tangerang, police and armies that guarded LG Electronic factories were brutally beating and tear gassing the workers who protested and demanded the managers to let the other workers join the strike. This police brutality also being condemned by YLBHI (Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia/ Indonesian Legal Aid Institute).

Change of Plan and The Ruling Class’ Reactions

Previously trade unions and federations from MPBI agreed to launch a five day strike but since two government minister agree to open a negotiation with MPBI officials, the strike is being reduced to only one day strike. Yet even this nationwide strike that only took place at 3 October 2012, already became a bold warning to the ruling class in Indonesia. Panic and fears are clearly reflexed in the expression of the capitalists especially those who grouped in APINDO (Asosiasi Pengusaha Indonesia/Indonesian Employer Association). Sofjan Wanadi, the chairman of APINDO, stated that “Actually those three demands of the workers can, and should be settled through three parties (government, employers, and workers) agreement, without nationwide strike. Such strike would only be disruption for the investment atmosphere in Indonesia. Afterall this outsourcing problem nothing more than just a lack of monitoring.” Further he also try threatening the working class in Indonesia by saying, “If they always keep on insisting to use such tactic (strike and demonstration) we can and we will replace all workers with machine!

Also supporting such view, Edimon Ginting, an econom and also Indonesian representative from ADB (Asian Development Bank) stated, “Outsourcing system has many benefits especially for company’s efficiencies so it can not be erased.” This statesment is clearly reflexed the foreign capitalists’ interest in Indonesia.

On the other side there is no different response from Indonesian state apparatus. Johannes Effendy, government official from Chamber of Indonesian Trade and Commerce from Riau Island Branch, furiously condemn the strike, “such ways of the workers are nothing but an act of arrogance, unethical, and unsympathetic!” Marzuki Alie, a notorious member of the ruling party who is famous in making anti-people commentary, and also a chairman of Indonesian House of Representative, stated that the worker strike must be stopped, “If they keep on doing that, the business in Indonesia will be ruined.” While the president through his spokesman said that the nationwide strikes and demonstrations are regretted act and would disrupt the industrial production activity and even national economy. Both of them clearly have no sympathy towards the working life that suffered life disruption for years.

Development and Ongoing Process

While the demands of the 3 October strike is still a pure economi demand, there are also growing and significant development of political consciousness of Indonesian working class especially among the rank and file of trade unions and federations of MPBI. Said Iqbal, president of KSPI, in a press conference announcing the nationwide strike by MPBI stated that the current regime is not different from colonial era Netherland East Indies regime that oppressed and exploited the working class in Indonesia. On the other occasion, Heri Purwanto, a leader from FSPMI, in a nationwide broadcasted television talkshow, being interviewed by TVOne stated, “…”We want to change the regime and change the system. If this regime, this current regime can not protect Indonesian people, why we have to maintain it? The only possible way for us is we have to launch a revolution and we have to paralyze national economy!” His strong statement and bold warning to the ruling class, greeted enthusiasticly by hundreds of workers surrounding him by shouting, “Long Live Workingclass!

This 3 October Movement National Worker Strike also resulted enormous support from outside trade unions and federation. The mass strike also being supported by other non-worker or non-labor organisation like peasant union or peasant movement organisation such as KPA (Agrarian Renewal Concortium) and student organisations especially PEMBEBASAN (Center of Student Struggle for National Liberation), FMN (National Student Front), LMND (National Student League for Democracy). We know it is still far from making conclusion, this is however, showing the growing power and influence of working class capability to lead class struggle in Indonesia. While there is still on going process of negotiation between MPBI officials and government, some trade unions (like Pertamina Trade Unions) who are being disappointed by the government lack of commitment, already back in the street and launch another demonstration and protest rally.

Through this 3 October Movement National Worker Strike, the workingclass in Indonesia not only made a historical event of class struggle. In fact they also achieved greater consciousness, where they realized that it is them, the Indonesian working class who is the real people that runs the economy and yet they benefits the fewest especially compared to the ruling class. The working class in Indonesia also achieved greater unity, they see themselves as a whole, they win supports from other non factories based workers such as hospital workers and also with other oppresed people in Indonesia. Finally the most important of all, the working class in Indonesia also achieved confidence that when the working class united, they can win the struggle.


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