Jakarta “belonged” to workers yesterday when tens of thousands of protesters flooded on to the main streets of the capital city to commemorate Labour Day, which is popularly known as May Day.
Demonstrations were held at at least five points in the city – the Bung Karno Sports Stadium, the Hotel Indonesia roundabout, Banteng Square, the Jamsostek (state-run workers insurance scheme) office and the State Palace.
The State Palace in Central Jakarta was besieged by around 10,000 from the Workers Challenge Alliance (ABM). The demonstrators were disappointed because the palace was empty – with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono spending the day at his private residence in Cikeas, Bogor.
The palace was like the outlet to a river for a long-march by thousands of workers arriving from different points in the city carrying scores of trade unions and student organisations flags and thousands of banners. Upon arriving at the palace, speakers called on the government and employers to improve workers’ welfare.
The demonstrators also brought a number of large puppets resembling cows to symbolise the fate of workers who have become little more than cash cows. Others carried dummies hanging from bamboo stakes to symbolise the fate of marginal workers. “These puppets symbolise the fate of migrant workers who have simply become cash cows or the producers of foreign exchange without any protection”, asserted Migrant Care executive director Anis Hidayah.
In front of the State Palace, the cries of disappointment with the government reached a crescendo when protesters realised that Yudhoyono was not going to meet with them. The protesters said that the promises made during the presidential election campaign have not been realised because the government favours the interests of business over workers. “The working class is kept down so that their wages are low, while employers continue to be provided with facilities so their wealth grows”, said a speaker from ABM.
Angry over Yudhoyono’s absence, speakers also called on protesters to take over the palace, however the call turned out to just a bluff because more than 3,000 police officers had formed a barrier surrounding the State Palace, the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court. Some of the protesters even tried to jump the barbed wire fence resulting in a minor clash with police.
At the Bung Karno Sports Stadium, the Workers Alliance Forum (FAP) held an action titled May Day Fiesta 2008. The FAP is made up of the National Workers Union (SPN), the All Indonesia Workers Union-Electronic and Machinery Trade Union (FSP LEM-SPSI) and the Indonesian Metal Trade Workers Federation (FSPMI). At least 30,000 workers took part in the fiesta during which they highlighted the fact 10 years of labour reform has yet to provide protection to or improve the welfare of workers.
At the Hotel Indonesia roundabout meanwhile, a protest action was held by the Volunteers for Democratic Struggle (RPD), the United Workers Committee (KBB), the People’s Struggle Front (FPR) and the University of Indonesia Student Executive Council (BEM). FSPMI also held an action at the House of Representatives building.
[Abridged translation by James Balowski.]