Indonesian workers divided over plans to establish new labour party

CNN Indonesia – April 30, 2015
Rally by APB workers - May 2, 2012 (A. Irwanto)
Rally by APB workers - May 2, 2012 (A. Irwanto)

Abraham Utama, Jakarta – International Labour Day or May will be commemorated tomorrow on Friday May 1 in a number of different countries. On Thursday however, labour groups in Indonesia were still divided over plans to establish a new labour party.

Workers affiliated with the Indonesian People’s United Resistance (PPRI) for example have emphatically opposed a plan by the Indonesian Labour Movement (GBI) to establish a political party in the name of the Indonesian labour movement.

“We (workers) must build a [political] party, but not just for workers, but for all the people. Not [just] a new party, but an alternative party”, said Paulus Suryanta Ginting when speaking with CNN Indonesia. Ginting is one of the workers affiliated with the PPRI.

Ginting doubts that the GBI’s talk about declaring a labour party tomorrow will be realised. He questions whether trade unions that have explicitly aligned themselves with certain political forces can merge and fight for the same goals.

On Thursday April 23, the GBI announced that it was determined to establish a labour party on May Day. Confederation of the All-Indonesian Workers Union (KSPSI) president Andi Ghani Nena Wea claimed that the idea of forming a party already has the support of several trade union with a large mass base such as the Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions (KSPI) led by Said Iqbal.

During last year’s presidential election, the two labour organisations took different positions visa-a-vis their support for the presidential candidates. Andi Ghani and his group gave their support to the President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo and Vice President Jusuf Kalla ticket while Iqbal and his KSPI garnered votes for the Prabowo Subianto and Hatta Rajasa ticket.

“How can it possibly be an alternative [political] party if it’s still in cahoots with certain elements of the elite”, said Ginting. He suspects that these labour organisation leaders will misuse workers’ votes to increase their political bargaining power.

Speaking separately, Iqbal said that his group is not yet in full agreement with Andi Ghani, noting that forming a labour party is not as simple as just turning over a new leaf. “It can’t just be declared all of a sudden. There has to be a process”, said Iqbal.

According to Iqbal, there are at least three stages that workers need to go through in order create a party in their own name, namely political education among labour groups, the establishment of a mass organisation as an embryonic political party and an internal survey among workers on whether there is a need for a labour party.

“It mustn’t just involve a small group of workers. The majority of groups must take part. Groups outside of workers must be invited, such as farmers and fisherpeople”, said Iqbal.

On this last point, Ginting agrees with Iqbal. He said that an ideal labour party cannot be exclusively for workers, but must also reach out to other social groups that are suffering the same fate as and are struggling alongside workers.

According to Ginting, if the establishment of a labour party is forced, the party will die in its infancy. Its fortunes will be the same past labour movement projects: it will surface then flounder.

[Translated by James Balowski for the Indoleft News Service. The original title of the report was May Day, Buruh Indonesia Terpecah soal Pembentukan Partai.]