Workers shouldn’t be provoked by political games behind anti-Ahok protests

Solidarity Net – November 4, 2016
Workers join anti-Ahok demonstrations in Jakarta - November 4, 2016 (panjimas)
Workers join anti-Ahok demonstrations in Jakarta - November 4, 2016 (panjimas)

Jakarta – A demonstration by thousands of people in Jakarta calling on Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama to be arrested and charged for blasphemy has elicited a variety of responses from labour groups.

Ahok stands accused of insulting Islam during a visit to the Thousand Islands north of Jakarta because in a speech he said that Maidah 51, a verse in the Quran, is often used by his political rivals to fool people into not electing a non-Muslim leader.

Support and opposition have marked the action. Although many people, including workers, are hostile to Ahok because they feel upset by his lack humanity.

There are also other workers who are unwilling to automatically discriminate against others simply on the basis of their ethnicity, religion, race or social group (SARA).

For workers, this is the same as negating the country’s pluralism. Moreover as long as such leaders defend the poor, no matter what their religion, race or ethnicity, they will certainly be defended by the majority of people.

Workers Challenge Alliance (ABKM) president Mujiyo is of the view that there is nothing wrong with the November 4 action because it is allowed by law. But, he said, the issues being taken up by demonstrators has to be underlined.

“The issues [being taken up in] tomorrow’s demonstration are ridden with political interests in the lead up to the [Jakarta] regional election [in February] and are dominated with sentiments of SARA, workers should focus on the struggle to improve their welfare because we know that workers’ rights are frequently emasculated by business and government”, said Mujiyo.

Another view says that there are more important problems than discriminating against people because of SARA.

Economic difficulties for example, companies paying less than the minimum wage, the use of contract labour, outsourcing, apprenticeships, trade union bashing and other labour violations.

As related by Indonesian Trade Union Congress Alliance (KASBI) secretary general Unang Sunarno: “Ahok has apologised already. So the issue doesn’t need to be blown out of proportion and politicised this way, as if Ahok intentionally insulted the Islamic community”, he told Solidarity Net on Wednesday November 2.

So if accusations are to be leveled at Ahok, said Unang, they should be related to his policies that fail to side with the poor, not because he is an ethnic Chinese. Unang believes questions still need to be asked about the movement against Ahok which claims that it is defending Islam because the movement is being used for political interests.

Similar remarks were made by Boyo, a worker from the company PT Devananda Mustika. According to Boyo, the November 4 demonstration is not just about insulting religion but is instead a battle between the political elite, between Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) chairperson Megawati Sukarnoputri, Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) chairperson Prabowo Subianto and Democrat Party patron former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

“It is in the interests of the political elite to bring in issues of SARA concealed behind the label of religion. Workers, all the people shouldn’t be provoked this religious issue. Workers should focus on the 2017 [minimum] wage which will soon be set based on Government Regulation 78]”, he explained.

Boyo asserts that there are many labour issues that need to be untangled and resolved. So workers don’t need to be caught up in the political interests concealed by the issue of SARA.

[Translated by James Balowski for the Indoleft News Service. The original title of the report was Kata Buruh Mengenai Aksi 4 November.]