Today, on May 1, we are commemorating the 124th International Labour Day. May Day this year marks a development in the Indonesian labour movement. The working class, which during the military regime of former President Suharto was oppressed and trampled on, and was then deemed as being of no significance during the reformasi era (the reform era that began with Suharto’s overthrow in 1998), and is now showing how extraordinary its power is when it unites and mobilises.
It was not through negotiations, mediations, tripartite bodies or the Industrial Relations Court that more than 50 thousand workers in the industrial zone of Bekasi were promoted to permanent employees with all of the associated rights such as the Workers Insurance Scheme (Jamsostek), paid overtime and an eight-hour day with no loss of pay. They were promoted to permanent employees and won their normative rights because thousands of workers, regardless of which trade union they belonged to or which factory mobilised to provide solidarity, descend en masse upon factories maintaining contract labour and outsourcing systems, paying cheap wages and violating workers’ normative rights.
The gains of this struggle have also developed the labour movement itself. The working class has begun to become involved in non-labour issues such as rejecting the government’s planned fuel price hikes in April last year. The working class has also organised against the repressive draft laws on mass organisations and national security that will limit democratic space. Workers have even mobilised in solidarity with the Palestine people’s struggle.
The labour movement peaked during the October 3 national strike last year. The first nation-wide strike in 50 years demonstrated just how strong the Indonesian labour movement is. This development also opened the way for other campaigns such as raising working class consciousness and the development of a political program of struggle.
Several things can be learn from these developments in the labour movement:
First, that in areas where there is a large labour movement, wage increases, job security (the abolition of contract labour and outsourcing) and other basic rights (Jamsostek, overtime wages etc.) are more likely to be won and maintained.
This indicates that under the existing capitalist order, the capitalists and the working class are opposed to each other. The capitalists can become hugely rich and continue to accumulate profits by impoverishing the working class, through contract labour and outsourcing, low wages or the erosion of rights and social security. It is not possible for the capitalists to pay decent wages and provide rights and social security in accordance with what is produced by workers’ labour, because by doing this were would they obtain their profits?
Thus the logic is that workers cannot win their rights and prosperity at the negotiating table, through mediation or the Industrial Relations court. Negotiations and mediation will only allow the capitalists to consolidate their forces in order to strike back at the working class. And of course not through commemorating International Labour Day with dances, musical events, door prizes and other social activities that are promoted by the political elite, the police, the military and the capitalists.
Working class rights and prosperity can only be won through direct mass action by the working class, which as much as possible involves as many workers as possible and raise workers’ awareness of their power, unity and their basic interests. It is precisely such direct mass action using radical methods that contributes to developing working class consciousness, real gains for workers and the development of trade unions themselves.
Secondly, in reality it is the working class alone that produces all the wealth that exists in the world. This is because of the simple fact that it is the working class that does the work. Here lies the power of the working class, and also a power that can be shattered without a fight when the meaning of class is not firmly grasped and the working class decays into the divisive politics of the capitalists.
The capitalists and the regime of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vice President Boediono scream and shout that the October 3 national strike resulted in 190 trillion rupiah in “losses”. But losses for who? Does this not demonstrate that it is the daily work of workers that produce this 190 trillion rupiah? So where has all this wealth gone? There is in fact so much that could be done with the abundant wealth produced by the working class. If the power to control, distribute and regulate the economy was in the hands of the working class and the ordinary people, this wealth could be used for free and quality education, healthcare and housing for the people.
The capitalists are little more than parasites. Yet the capitalists, who have never done a days work, never shed a drop of sweat, are able to do whatever they like because they own factories, control trade, transportation and the like. They own the means of production (capital, money and machines) to make goods, and produce all kinds of food. Yet they are able to maintain themselves as parasites because they are organised, control the political organisations that function to safeguard, run and maintain the system, namely the state. Here lies the essence of the capitalist order.
Third, the working class struggle has increasingly made it clear that the existing state is the state of the capitalists. Deep inside the consciousness of the working class there is already an awareness that the state tends to side with the capitalists. The fear of confronting the capitalists is closely linked with mistrust in the state, that it cannot defend the interests of the working class or the ordinary people.
Over the last one or two years of the development of the labour movement it can clearly be seen how the regime of President Yudhoyono has stanchly opposed wage rises or the abolition of contract labour and outsourcing on various grounds. This has been made even clearer in statements by army generals such as the Jakarta military commander who declared that the military will crush the labour movement if it dares go ahead and blockade the international airport. Add to this the criminalisation of labour activist and the use of paid thugs to attack the labour movement, which is backed by the entire state apparatus – the police, the judiciary and the threat of jail.
The struggle against the poverty created by the capitalist order must of course be carried out by the working class and the ordinary people. Real change however requires that workers launch a political struggle, seizing power from the capitalists’ and destroying capitalism. Then replace it with socialism.
Socialism is in essence a social order that is based upon a planned economy for the welfare of the people as a whole. Because of this it therefore demands that political power be held by the people. A democratic and planned economy also demands a democratic political system.tic.
In simple terms, the late Hugo Chavez, the former president of Venezuela explained: “If you want to eliminate poverty, you have to empower the poor. That’s the main principle of the Bolivarian Socialist Revolution”. And this is not just the empty talk we hear every five years during the presidential and legislative elections, or the elections for governor or regent that are held every few years in Indonesia. When after we have elected these oppressors they maintain their hold on power and oppress the people, and the people can do nothing. Never mind the ministers, public prosecutors, judges and military generals whose positions are never under the people’s control.
The socialist political order has three principle characteristics: There is no differentiation of power between the executive and the legislative, and this power is consolidated in a people’s council. All pubic officials must be elected by the people and the people have the right to recall them at any time. Public officials do not receive excessive wages, but receive wages equivalent to that of ordinary workers.
This political power will make it possible to organise a planned economy for the benefit of the ordinary people. This would include a number of different programs, including: The nationalisation of strategic assets under the control of workers and the people; the repudiation of the foreign debt; the rejection of international financial institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank and the Asia Development Bank; the rejection of free trade agreements such as the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), the Asean Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) and the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA); a program of national industrialisation to create employment; a decent national minimum wage and a reduction in working hours without loss of pay and; the freedom to organise, freedom of expression and opinion, freedom of ideology and worship and the freedom to chose one’s sexual identity.
It is for this reason that we should join in the struggle to make socialism a reality.
-- Socialism: For the millions, not the millionaires
Yogyakarta May Day Action Committee
Working People’s Association-Political Organisation Congress (KPO-PRP)
Phone: 081 5681 5133
The Politics of the People (PR)
Phone: 0877 3936 5431
The People’s Liberation Party (PPR)
Facebook: Koran Pembebasan (Liberation Newspaper)
Phone: 0817 940 8659
Editorial board address: Jl Bugisan Selatan no 11 A, RT 01/RW 01, Kasihan, Bantul, Yogyakarta
[Translated by James Balowski. The original statement, Buruh Berkuasa Rakyat Sejahtera!, can be viewed at <http://koranpembebasan.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/buruh-berkuasa-rakyat-sejahtera/#more-872>.]