Despite Jakarta governor’s wage betrayal, why no call for a national strike?

Mojok – November 15, 2017
National strike action (Mojok)
National strike action (Mojok)

Sarinah – The setting of the 2018 minimum wage has it seems has been full of drama compared with previous years. Newly elected Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan and Deputy Governor Sandiaga Uno, who were earlier applauded and flattered “as high as the sky” by their trade union supporters, are now being labeled as liars.

Baswedan and Uno turned out to be the same as other regional heads and ended up using Government Regulation Number 78/2015 (PP 78/2015) to set the minimum wage, which ties annual wage increases to a lower figure based on inflation and productivity.

During the election campaign, the workers who supported the Anies-Sandi gubernatorial ticket fought tooth and nail to ensure the victory of their champions. The climax being when workers set fire to flower arrangements sent to the City Hall sent by supporters of incumbent governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama. They claimed that the flowers were “messing up the street” and they were just helping the local government to clean them up.

Who could possibly be stupid enough to believe such a claim?

Now these workers truly feel they have been deceived. The climax being when they returned to City Hall to condemn Baswedan and Uno and award them with the title “Bapak Upah Murah” (The Father of Low Wages) – a titled they once pinned on President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.

The president of the Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI) and the Indonesian Metal Workers Trade Union Federation (FSPMI), Said Iqbal, even said that Ahok was better than Baswedan and Uno.

Perhaps you misheard?

Ahok the infidel, Ahok the Chinese Christian, the loud-mouthed impolite Ahok, who is now behind bars after being convicted of blasphemy, turns out to have been a better protector of workers in setting the minimum wage?

But despite labeling Baswedan and Uno as being worse than Ahok and giving them the “Bapak Upah Murah” award, oddly enough Iqbal has yet to issue any kind of definitive statement: the kind of statements he has been making since 2012; statements that have made the country’s rulers perplexed and nervous; statements that have made the capitalists flounder in confusion; statements that were still heard at the end of 2016. The threat of a “national strike”.

After rolling around the floor in laughter at seeing Iqbal tearing up a political contract between the Jakarta Workers’ Coalition and Baswedan-Uno that was signed during the gubernatorial election campaign in which Baswedan and Uno pledged not to use the PP 78/2015 to set the 2018 minimum wage, I also had a divine inspiration on what was behind Iqbal’s failure to pronounce that terrible word: “national strike”.

First, the threat of a national strike has only ever been directed against Jokowi and Ahok. Jokowi and Ahok should feel proud getting such special treatment from the KSPI. It is no easy thing for someone in power to be regular recipient of the working classes’ deadliest weapon.

The governor of West Java and Islamic based Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS) politician Ahmad Heryawan, who has the dubious record of granting the largest number wage rise exceptions to companies after Jokowi and Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, has never been gifted with the threat of a national strike.

In 2014 for example, Heryawan granted requests for wage rise exceptions from 166 companies in West Java while Ahok only accepted similar requests for exceptions from 16 companies.

Certainly there were actions at the Gedung Sate building (the governor’s office) and challenges in the West Java State Administrative Court (PTUN), but there were never any personnel attacks on Heryawan, let alone being deemed a “Bapak Upah Murah”. That crime was reserved for Jokowi and Ahok alone.

Although most KSPI members are in West Java, it seems they are more enthusiastic about demonstrating at the Jakarta City Hall rather than the Gedung Sate building.

When criticised over this, the KSPI’s response is always: Because the Jakarta minimum wages is benchmark for the rest of the country so it must be high so it will be easier for other regions to get good wage rises.

As if people don’t know that many of the KSPI’s core leaders are also members of the PKS. If Baswedan and Uno joined the PKS, this drama of course would never have taken place.

Second, a national strike is indeed not easy. It’s not as simple as Iqbal’s mouth issuing an instruction. The 2003 labour law does not acknowledge the term “national strike”. It only recognises legitimate strikes as being a consequence of the failure of negotiations which are declared deadlocked by employers and employees.

In addition to this, workers must submit a written notification to the Labour Office (Disnaker) and employers at least seven days before the strike.

So a strike without a problem which has been negotiated first is referred to as a “spontaneous strike” (wildcat strike). Wildcat strikes are basically considered illegal by the state. If workers just stop work then they are deemed to be absent from work. If they fail to show up for work for five consecutive days, then they are considered to have resigned.

Because of this therefore, no legal umbrella exists so a national strike requires a much greater level of militancy and carries greater risks.

Solidarity is the key in order to avoid legal repercussions after a strike has been held. If some of the workers stop work while others continue working, employers can easily replace striking workers. And there are many unemployed workers waiting in line even though they have to pay millions of rupiah to employment brokers.

The other problem is the large number of contract workers in factories who are not interested in joining a national strike because they are afraid of being sacked. Contract workers therefore are willing to continue production even if trade union workers go on strike.

There is also little serious advocacy for contract workers in the workplace resulting in the rampant use of contract labour. Just try asking them to strike. At best they will answer, “Sorry, Mas [brother], Mbak [sister], I’m afraid of not being extended, the credit on my motorbike hasn’t been paid off yet”.

Faced with all these obstacles and impediments a really great trade union leader can employ the tactic of a pretend strike. Workers from shifts 2 and 3 are ordered to gather in front of the factor but workers from shift 1 are still working in the factory. Leftist activists who witness this in front of the factory are moved – the revolution is before our eyes!

Third, workers are sick and tired of being used as a sacrificial offerings. It is a public secret within KSPI circles that during a national strike, in the factories where KSPI branch and national leaders work there is no halt to production.

Following the second round of national strikes in 2013, Said Iqbal once gathered together the KSPI union leaders to ask for accountability. A statement of obedience to his instructions was prepared and the leaders ordered to sign it. But, did Iqbal’s own factory ever go on strike?

As a result, workers who walk off the job in other factories have to go knocking on the doors of factories where KSPI leaders work in order to get their workers to come out.

“What the hell, going knocking on union leader’s factory door!” Is it right for factories of people who order a strike not to stop work themselves? Or perhaps they’ve done a deal with the management?

In the end the national strike drama ends with the workers who actually carried out the strike ordered by the union leadership being sacked. Meanwhile workers in factories who can still be “conditioned” to continue working stay safe. The union then advocates for the sacked workers to get the highest possible severance pay and, not to forget to deduct 2 percent for union fees.

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was Walau Buruh Sudah Dibohongi Anies-Sandi, Kenapa Mogok Nasional Belum Ada Juga?.]