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Jakarta Post

Illuminating Indonesia'€™s labor movement

  • Indrasari Tjandraningsih

    The Jakarta Post

Bandung   /   Wed, May 8, 2013   /  11:35 am

For almost a decade now, the labor movement in Indonesia has shown its muscle. In the midst of a fierce wave of neoliberalism meant to suppress collective labor power, Indonesian workers have proved the opposite.

In 2006, Indonesian workers in full strength took to the streets to reject the government'€™s plan to revise Labor Law No. 13/2003. The workers'€™ resistance proved effective and forced the government to drop the plan. This success had a significant impact on workers'€™ awareness of their collective power.

Since then the May Day celebration has always been marked by a massive and nationwide rally and received extensive media coverage. At the same time, the mass demonstration has been an effective way to remind the government that workers must be seriously taken into account.

Aside from the growing number of workers attending the May Day celebration, the rising power of workers is characterized by the demand for better labor policies that go beyond the factory walls. The workers are pushing for government policies on social security, corruption eradication, better infrastructure, etc. These suggest four circumstances.

First, a growing awareness among workers of their basic rights as citizens that the state has to respect. Second, workers are getting smarter and critical in identifying unsettled business in the country. Third, the government indeed needs pressure to draw up and execute policies dedicated to the welfare of its citizens. Fourth, the notion of buruh or worker has been given a very basic meaning, which is anybody who works on the basis of instruction and receives a wage and thus it refers to the majority of citizens.

The country'€™s labor movement strategy is also maturing. The choice of places to articulate their protest indicates the workers'€™ comprehension of parties who bear the main responsibility in determining workers'€™ fate. The factory is no longer considered the strategic site as workers are now targeting the symbols of the state, such as the presidential palace, the House of Representatives and ministerial office buildings. When the workers target foreign embassies it only shows their concern about the role of global capital in the fulfillment of labor rights. It should be kept in mind that rallies and demonstrations are only a part of the strategy aside from negotiation and advocacy.

Workers'€™ collective actions imply that organized workers need to be taken seriously. Their success in forcing the government to withdraw its plan to revise the labor law, the enactment of the Law on Social Security Providers (BPJS), the issuance of a ministerial regulation on stricter outsourcing practice and the significant increase in the minimum wage are undisputed evidence of the effectiveness, representativeness and persistence of the labor movement.

It is interesting to watch the phenomenon of the labor movement within the context of the performance of the Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono administration and the House. The workers won their demands in an informal way that shows the ineffectiveness of the bureaucracy as well as the workers'€™ lack of confidence in the government.

The workers have also left behind political parties as the vehicle to articulate change and improvement, mainly due to the poor performance of the parties represented in the House. The political parties fail to gain workers'€™ trust because they do not show a proper vision and orientation with regard to workers'€™ interests. Not to mention the corrupt practices and violations of the code of ethics involving the lawmakers.

When workers took the formal way through the House, as in the case of the BPJS law, the use of pressure and close watch from the public played a pivotal role.

The strengthening of the labor movement is important and should be treated in a smart way both by the government and employers. The old paradigm that justifies the use of force and deems workers as barbaric and troublemakers has to come to an end.

Workers competence in analyzing situation using micro and macro data as a solid basis in formulating a strategy for struggle is indeed a positive sign to create just and fair industrial relations. The workers'€™ intelligence is a testament to their billing as an equal partner in any negotiation with employers or the government.

As a consequence, there is a need on the part of the policymakers and employers to redefine their standpoint on the workers'€™ status and position and renew their paradigm of workers-employers-state relations in order to reach equality and prosperity for all.

The writer is a labor researcher at the AKATIGA Center for Social Analysis, Bandung.

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