Indonesian workers demonstrate on May Day

Worker, student and non-government organisations commemorated May Day across Indonesia, taking up a range of themes. The rallies proceeded peacefully in most cities, but clashes and arrests were reported in Jakarta.

On Bali, the Tempo Interactive website reported, workers and NGO activists from the Solidarity Challenge Alliance protested in the island’s capital, Denpasar, condemning mass dismissals and the widespread use of contract labour and outsourcing. Action coordinator Saiful said that 100,000 workers were laid off in 2009, and this year is expected to be even more savage following the ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (ACFTA) agreement coming into effect, which will flood domestic markets with cheap products and threaten local small and medium enterprises.

In the West Java capital, Bandung, more than 1000 labour and peasant activists rallied at the governor’s office. “Today ... commemorates the workers’ struggle to obtain an eight hour working day, eight hours’ rest and eight hours with the family”, Indonesian Trade Union Congress Alliance (KASBI) West Java regional coordinator Sudaryanto told Tempo. A group of women workers also demanded equal treatment with their male colleagues. “Women workers are oppressed from two sides, by the patriarchal system and the capitalist system”, said Diah Septi Tresnati from the Indonesian Labour Movement Union Preparatory Committee.

Tempo reported that workers at the Koja Container Terminal in North Jakarta marked May Day with a three-day strike that paralysed the port. Union secretary Tedy Herdian said that all 485 employees had joined the strike. An attempt by management to transfer activities to the nearby Jakarta International Container Terminal had failed because of solidarity with the strikers from the union there.

‘Replace the system’

In the South Sulawesi provincial capital of Makassar, students from the United Anti-Global Neoliberalism People’s Movement for a Makassar Revolution demonstrated in front of the Panakkukang shopping mall, saying it was a representative of neoliberalism and the oppression of workers. Around 1000 workers from KASBI, the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the Union for the Politics of the Poor (PPRM) demonstrated under the slogan “Replace the regime — replace the system”. “The SBY-Boediono [President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono-Vice President Budiono] regime is a government that bends over in submission to the interests of capitalism, the evidence being low wages ... and the country’s natural resources that are sold off to foreigners”, KASBI coordinator Muchtar told

Thousands of students, workers and NGO activists in the North Sumatran city of Medan marched through the main streets handing out leaflets and then held a sit-down at a major intersection. The demonstrators’ speeches urged the government to make May 1 a national holiday and opposed the use of contract labour. In the East Java city of Mojokerto, 5000 workers protested at the regional parliamentary and government offices. According to Tempo, in addition to calling for revisions to social security and worker insurance laws, they condemned arbitrary dismissals and called for the government to stop siding with employers. In Jombang regency, thousands of demonstrators from the Workers Challenge Alliance (ABM) took to the streets demanding an end to labour outsourcing.

Tempo reported that journalists in the South Sumatran city of Palembang opposed union busting, mass dismissals, low wages and the use of contract labour and outsourcing in their industry. Organised by the South Sumatra Reporters Forum, the action was supported by AJI, the Indonesian Journalists Association, the Association of Indonesian Television Journalists, the Indonesian Multimedia Journalists Union and the South Jakarta Journalists.

According to the May 1 Kompas daily, a protest by 100 activists from KASBI, the Indonesian National Students Movement (GMNI) and the Mining Trade Union Workers Challenge in the East Kalimantan city of Samarinda centred on the governor’s office, calling for wage increases and the repeal of anti-worker regulations. They raised concerns about the ACFTA, special economic zones and proposed revisions to workers insurance and the industrial disputes law.

Hundreds of workers and activists of the National Trade Union (SPN) in the Central Java capital of Semarang called for improved welfare and labour conditions. According to, a similar action involved 200 people from the People’s Struggle Front (FPR), the Indonesian Youth Student Front (FPPI), the National Student League for Democracy, the Islamic Students Association and the Legal Aid Foundation.

Also in Central Java, reported, hundreds of workers held a free speech forum in Solo, rejecting the ACFTA and electricity rate hikes. They demanded better social welfare, decent wages, freedom of association, the development of national industry and the abolition of contract labour and outsourcing. Around 1500 workers in nearby Boyolali also demonstrated against the ACFTA.

Tempo reported that May Day in the Central Java capital, Surabaya, was joined by students from the November 10 Institute of Technology Student Executive Council, the GMNI Surabaya and the Surabaya National Student Front (FMN) calling for President Yudhoyono and Vice-President Budiono to resign.

Demonstrators from ABM East Java called for social security and for the government to abolish contract labour and strengthen labour supervision. Hundreds of protesters from the Yogyakarta Labour Alliance, reported, demanded the abolition of contract labour, wage increases and the designation of May 1 as a national holiday. The workers also rejected the ACFTA, saying it will result in more mass dismissals. A number of separate protest actions in Yogyakarta were also held by the FMN, the FPPI, the FPR and the Kulonprogo Beach Land Farmers Association.

Jakarta clash

The capital had the biggest turnout, thousands of workers converging on the State Palace in central Jakarta after marching from strategic points around the city. Police said about 15,000 officers were deployed as protesters gathered before marching to the palace shouting “Replace the regime, replace the system. Workers take power for the people’s prosperity.”

According to Mahardika News blogsite, some 5000 workers from the ABM marched from the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle to the State Palace shouting anti-government and anti-capitalist slogans such as “SBY-Boediono are capitalist lackeys, overthrow them; overthrow the political elite; power to the people; women workers unite and fight for equality and prosperity”. During the march speeches were given by organisations including the Jaringan Nasional Perempuan Mahardika (JNPM, National Network for Women’s Liberation). Spokesperson Sharina declared JNPM’s full support for the working-class struggle and its readiness to join with the ABM to fight for the liberation of women and the Indonesian people. Sharina also emphasised the importance of women struggling and organising to fight against capitalism. The marchers also carried a huge poster reading, “The solution for Indonesia: Build national industry, nationalise vital national assets under the people’s control, repudiate the foreign debt and fight corruption”.

Arriving at the State Palace, the ABM joined up with the 1992 All Indonesia Trade Union and set up a platform for joint speeches. Representatives from the Indonesian Student Secretariat, the SBTPI, the Solidarity Alliance for Labour Struggle , the Greater Jakarta Workers Federation of Struggle, the Indonesian Struggle Union and the Union for the Politics of the Poor also spoke. The common thread was that the central problem facing the working class is the capitalist system, which is supported by SBY-Boediono and the political parties in parliament.

Berdikari Online reported that, from early morning, workers from the Indonesian Metal Trade Workers Federation, the SPN and the Indonesian Association of Trade Unions had been gathering in front of the palace. In addition to health care guarantees and social welfare, they called for a trustee commission to replace the Social Insurance Management Agency.

Towards afternoon another wave of demonstrators began arriving from groups such as the KASBI, the Anti-Corruption Youth Action Committee and the FPR calling for wage increases, the abolition of contract labour and the cancellation of the ACFTA. They were followed by demonstrators from the May One Movement 2010, an alliance of 36 unions and organisations under the Indonesian People’s Opposition Front. Calling for the nationalisation of all mining, oil and gas companies, plantations and other strategic assets for the welfare of the people, the group also set fire to a huge rat effigy.

After police arrested two protesters for allegedly provoking the demonstrators to move closer to the palace, workers pushed against barricades and threw wooden planks, rocks and other objects at police. Police used a water cannon but the workers fought back, throwing bottles, wood and other items found in the street. Eventually coordinators calmed the protesters and the demonstration continued peacefully. said that three protesters were arrested in all.