[The following is a translation of a leaflet distributed by the Populist Democratic Trade Union (SEDAR) on May Day 2018.]
Today, we will again take to the streets and join the momentum of International Labour Day or May Day 2018.
The history of May Day is rooted in the working classes’ fight for an eight hour working day. In the era of early capitalism in the 16th Century, the working day was as long as 12-20 hours in appalling working conditions. This situation resulted in a bitter working class struggle throughout the world.
A nationwide strike in the United States on May 1, 1886, was greeted with military violence. An action by workers from the McCormick factory in Chicago on May 3 was showered by bullets killing six workers. The following day, a peaceful march at the Haymarket square was marked by bombs being thrown at police killing seven officers and four workers.
The government scapegoated eight labour leaders and activities in a trial that was far from just. Four were subsequently sentenced to hang on the gallows, one committed suicide and the remainder jailed.
The fight however continued. Those who were murdered became martyrs who inflamed the workers’ struggle until they eventually won an eight hour working day.
The suffering continues
The working class however is still languishing under policies of the capitalist state which perpetuate low wages, flexible work status, minimal health and safety guarantees and restrictions on trade unions.
The irony is that working hours are still as long as they were in the past as a result of low wages forcing workers to take extensive overtime. Moreover workers are trapped in debt repayments for decades.
The government is unable to provide sufficient employment opportunities so many Indonesian are forced to seek work oversees as migrant workers.
There are some nine million Indonesian workers overseas, the majority of which are women who are vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence. Many are forced to work without proper documentation and fall victim to human trafficking.
The state meanwhile pampers investors, particularly foreign investors, by providing generous investment facilities. This includes cheap labour, tax concessions and mobilising the military for security at factories and industrial zones.
Certainly, investment can create jobs, but Indonesian workers’ bargaining power is so low that instead of creating jobs, this situation actually becomes a new style of colonialism (imperialism).
In the name of development and facilitating investment, the state also robs farmers and the ordinary people of their land. There are a growing number of arrests of people fighting against the military and police evicting them from their land.
Forced land evictions in Taman Sari and Jeruk Bandung, Surokonto, Tanjung, Parangtritis, Sukoharjo, Kulon Progo and many others are becoming the portrait of a state that is increasingly aggressive in serving the expansion of capital.
When activists and ordinary people mobilise to defend their land, the state criminalises them and treats them as common criminals. But when companies steal the people land and pollute the environment, the state is silent.
Many of the threats facing the ordinary people are less obvious because of the emergence of reactionary groups who carry out persecution and other anti-democratic acts. In reality these groups are defending the interests of the rich using religion as a shield.
Development which simply relies on investment is very fragile. Workers experience this first hand when employers disappear as they please without paying their workers’ wages.
The only solution offered by the state is to auction off the assets of investors who flee. Yet the state should instead facilitate the takeover of these companies by workers so that they can be managed in the interest of workers and the public.
This is just one example of what could be done if the state truly sided with the interests of workers and the ordinary people. But the situation is not like that.
We are instead confronted with the political choices served up by the elite and the political parties who defend the interests of capital. They try to make us think that there is no other path but to vote for one of their candidates.
If we seek follow another road, namely building our own political force, which we think makes more sense, they say we are day dreaming. Yet voting for them in the hope that they will resolve all of the problems facing the people is the real daydream.
Previous elections, including the 2014 legislative and presidential elections, are enough to provide a lesson to us that supporting one of their candidates or joining one of their political parties will not bring prosperity to workers or the ordinary people.
Labour activists instead become servants to the interests of the political elite and their parties. Political contracts between workers and candidates have been proven meaningless because they are not legally binding and do not get implemented.
Abandon the fake trade unions
The growth of the labour and people’s movements over the last 20 years of reformasi – the reform era that began with the overthrow of former President Suharto – has resulted in the movements having the capacity to build their own political force.
Workers as a political force that can be mobilised in the large numbers and is independent financially, have the capacity to become the vanguard in building an alternative political force.
The problem however, is that the majority of trade union leaders no longer fight for the interests of the working class and have become supporters of the political elite and their parties.
They have destroyed the trade unions as a tool to defend the working class and turned them in of fake trade unions which defend the interests of the political elite. The fake trade union leadership has become an elite whose interests have absolutely nothing in common with the needs of ordinary workers.
The trade union elite is rewarded with government posts and access to power in return for this support, while on the other hand they disregard the need to build working class political power and workers are left to suffer.
When they do take up the idea of building a labour party, it remains only a discourse. And in the end, when the next election comes around, once again they put forward the political parties of the elite and their presidential candidates for workers to vote for. This is a betrayal of the workers’ struggle.
Workers must respond to this betrayal by abandoning the trade unions which are led by elite collaborators and build our own genuinely independent trade unions.
Don’t be afraid if they refuse to defend workers facing cases because trade unions which are independent and have not been coopted by employers and those in power will be better able to advocate for workers’ interests. We have already demonstrated that genuine trade unions have a greater capacity to defend workers.
Only by abandoning the trade union leadership of elite collaborators can workers move in the direction of building our own party in order to ensure that our program of demands are implemented.
We want decent wages, a reduction in working hours, permanent employment status, proper allowances, freedom of association and decent working conditions, abundant technology and what it produces, more jobs for the unemployed, affordable prices and goods and quality healthcare and education for our children.
We must therefore have the courage to build a political tool to fight for this program. This political tool is a labour party which will become a vehicle for workers to struggle together with the poor and oppressed – a new hope which will inspire the people come to in their thousands and join.
Jakarta, May 1, 2018
[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the leaflet was Kapitalis dan Negara Semakin Beringas, Tinggalkan Serikat Buruh Gadungan: Bangun Kekuatan Politik Alternatif.]