With his charismatic leadership, Said Iqbal, the chairman of the Confederation of Indonesian Workers Union (KSPI) undoubtedly convinced other labor unions to hold a national labor action.
The workers will still go on strike on Wednesday in observance of May Day, despite a recent meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Presidential Palace.
Iqbal has already checked with organizing committees in the regions. At least a million workers are set to rock millions more in Jakarta and other cities in North Sumatra, Riau Islands, West Java, Central Java and East Java.
“The national strike will be a reminder to tycoons and the regime. It is a necessity because justice will not come down from the sky but must be fought for,” he told The Jakarta Post recently.
The strike, organized by several confederations grouped under the Indonesian Labor Union Council (MPBI), has won support from other unions and civil society groups in their efforts to reform the employment and remuneration policies.
Iqbal, also a member of the National Tripartite Forum and the National Wage Committee, gave a nod to the importance of militancy, not extremism, amid the deadlocked negotiations between employers and the government. “A strong labor union movement can be an agent of change to lift up the economic livelihood of workers.”
“Labor unions have forcibly taken the militant way because other ways and roads to settle unresolved major labor issues have been closed down.”
Labor relations deteriorated between 2011 and 2013, as hundreds of thousands of workers have staged national strikes each year. The ensuing chaos has led regional heads to increase local minimum wages
Union organizers have also launched a sweeping movement against 14 of 122 companies that have attempted to introduce outsourcing for part of their core businesses in Bekasi and Cikarang, West Java.
The movements, which have included paralyzing blockades of strategic state assets such ports and toll roads, have sparked strong protests from executives, since they took place under the nose of security guards.
Iqbal, who claimed he was still working as a manager at PT Panasonic Health (PHCI) in Cibitung, said that he was questioned three times by the National Intelligence Agency (BIN). He told agents that he was true lover of the state ideology, Pancasila, to counter charges that he was left-wing socialist or a Communist.
“We are fighting just for a little justice. Our struggle is to have employers provide better jobs and pay a decent wage to workers amid good economic growth of six percent. Workers will demand nothing if the country is in a deep economic downturn.”
Iqbal said that unions were fighting for better remuneration and for the implementation of the national healthcare scheme by January 2014, and were demanding that the government drop plans to raise subsidized fuel prices for private cars on fears of follow-on increases for in the price of basic commodities and rental prices.
To avoid prolonged industrial conflict, local executives should learn from Japan, South Korea and US and bargain with unions as equals, Iqbal said.
“Executives should bear in mind that workers have great solidarity and will remain loyal if management sticks to transparency, accountability and equal partnership in industrial relations,” he said.
The way Iqbal has led the Federation of Indonesian Metal Worker Unions (FSPMI) and the KSPI has made him a strong candidate for the prestigious Ebee Elizabet Award given by the government of the Netherlands. Previously the Netherlands Labor Union (FNV) brought the story of Iqbal’s militancy to the big screen, hoping that a film about him would inspire Dutch union members.
Iqbal, born in Jakarta in 1968 and graduating as an engineer from the University of Indonesia, conveyed his thanks to Panasonic Group boss Rachmat Gobel, who has allowed him and three other organizers to take an active part in the union movement while working at the company.
“[Rahmat] sets a good example as to what business tycoons should do to create harmonious industrial ties and maintain worker loyalty and productivity,” Iqbal said.
On mushrooming labor unions, Iqbal said that, based on lessons that his has learned from the establishment of the International Free Trade Union (ICFTU) in Europe and the merger of the AFL-CIO in the United States, he has an obsession to merge the nation’s 98 major labor unions to offer a powerful united front in negotiations with employers and the government.
“Aside from the merger issue, the labor unions should find common ground and objectives for workers. They have to stay independent, but not neutral because they take workers’ side. They must be free from political intervention from the outside and must forge strong political bargains to fight for their common interests,” he said.
According to Iqbal, labor unions should not be elitist and should rely on financing from members to cover their operations. “The FSPMI and KSPI have actively supported industrial strikes because they collect Rp 4 billion [US$412,000] and Rp 200 million annually respectively from their members’ monthly dues.”
Iqbal, who unsuccessfully ran as a legislative candidate for the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) in 2009, confirmed that he no longer had an obsession to become a politician and would dedicate his life to his career at Panasonic, labor unions and his family.