Below are the notes used for a seminar paper delivered in, I think 2001, at the International Institute for Social History (IISG) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The paper was never prepared for publication. (PLEASE NOTE: A lot has happened since 2001. This article refers to the Peoples Democratic Party (PRD). This party split in 2007. There still is a group called the PRD, however, there are at least three other groups that can now trace their origins to the PRD that existed in 2001, as well as prominent activist individuals.) )
THE URBAN POOR AND MOBILISING POLITICS
Seminar notes by Max Lane, 2001(?)
Between 1965 and 1989, there was virtually no mass participation in Indonesian politics. Certainly there was no sustained organising and mobilising of exploited or oppressed sections of the population, either to defend their immediate circumstances or to seek any form of change. This began to change starting around 1989, perhaps a bit earlier, when university students began to help peasant farmers organise to defend their interests. The most celebrated case of this in this early period was the Kedung Ombo case. In this case, peasants, supported by students, mobilised in various form s of protest action against inadequate compensation for land being seized as part of an area to be flooded by a major dam.
Between 1989 until 1996, there was a steady increase in street protest activity, including mass mobilisations and strikes. This was primarily a result of a systematic attempt to revive this form of political activity after 24 years of “floating mass” and “depoliticisation” under the Suharto dictatorship, policies aimed at stamping our mass action politics. The primary impulse for the systematic attempt at reviving mass action politics came from radicalising sectors of the student sector.
Various groups emerged implementing this kind of activity. Within the radical student milieu several splits and internal conflicts took place over whether open mass protest should be escalated given the repression that these actions sometimes experienced. One product of these series of splits on these issues was the formation in 1994 of the Peoples Democratic Association (PRD), comprising the Centre for Indonesian Labour Struggle (PPBI), the National Peasants Union (STN), the Students in Solidarity with Democracy in Indonesia (SMID) and Peoples Cultural Work Network (JAKER). The PPBI, SMID, STN and JAKER had all been formed between 1991 and 1993.
Between 1994 and 1996, several large scale worker mobilisations took place as part of this systematic campaign to revive mass action politics. These included the Great Rivers Industry strike involving several thousand workers as well as a string of other major mass mobilisations. During the period 1994 until 1996 almost every large scale mass protest action was a mobilisation of factory workers concentrated in a single factory, factory complex or factory neighbourhood.
The last of these was the strike and protest mobilisation organised by the PPBI and PRD in July 1996 in Surabaya at which the PPBI Chairperson, Dita Sari, was arrested, along with two of her colleagues.
The possibility of these big strikes and mass protests was primarily due to the systematic organising carried out by the PPBI and PRD. The PRD had adopted this strategy, however, in direct response to a rise in the spontaneous protest activity over economic issues by factory workers in many parts of Indonesia. Statistics for strikes from various sources all indicate a dramatic rise beginning the end of the 1990s. The conscious turn to attempt to build a union movement or a united workers movement out of this spontaneous unrest took place within the PRD after an extended discussion regarding what should be the chief orientation: to workers and peasants. Between 1989 and 1991, peasants had been the chief focus of organising.
The increase in spontaneous worker protest also attracted attention from other quarters, resulting in the formation of other independent trade unions, such as the Serikat Buruh Sejahtera Indonesia (SBSI). However, the SBSI mostly avoided using the mass action tactic. Several advocacy organisations, now known as NGOS, also emerged dealing with labour issues.
The series of strikes, protest actions and student-worker rallies that took place between 1994 and 1996 were aimed at building a broad mass movement, involving workers, students and peasants, that could end the system of political dictatorship that existed under Suharto and replacing it with one based on grass-roots power. The mobilisation of workers was most frequently around immediate economic or workplace rights issues, but the goal was also to educate the workers involved as well as society in general to the power that came from mass organisation and mass action.
In this respect, the PPBI and PRD educational activities among the workers they organised would include political education aimed at convincing workers to also adopt political demands, as well as economic demands. During the 1994-1996 period for example, the demand for the abolition of the political role of the military and the repeal of the Suharto regime’s law on political parties and political activities was adopted by workers as a common demand in their protest actions.
During this 1994-1996 period, there were, of course, also protest actions, including some large-scale actions, organised by student and peasants. However, they were not as large or as frequent as the worker demonstrations. There were neither the same number of spontaneous actions, nor, more importantly, did they receive the same priority from the PRD as the workers sector.
Grass-roots protest activity had been occurring across all sectors before 1996. But, as I have said, the systematic national strategy by the PRD-PPBI to organise large scale worker protests that took up both immediate economic as well as strategic political questions, meant that these actions became the cutting edge of the grass-roots protest movement.
By the end of the 1989-1996 period also the techniques of street protest activity, include strike activity and land protests, had become very widely generalised. The widespread familiarity among workers, peasants and others of the techniques of protest activity was due to two key factors. It should be noted, of course, that one factor that was not operative was educational activity by large trade unions. The only large trade union was the government controlled SPSI and it did not encourage knowledge or enthusiasm for protest activities.
One factor was that despite tight control over the media in reporting explicit political opposition to the Suharto dictatorship, there was little censorship of reporting of worker and peasant protest activity. This was true in the 1970s and 1980s as well as the 1990s. There are large collections of news clippings on worker protests in the 1970s and 1980s gathered by the Leiden based INDOC project and also large collections of such clippings gathered by myself for the 1980s, now held by the library of the Australian National University. There are also several such collections in various NGO libraries in Indonesia. The widespread press reporting helped legitimise these protests and integrate them into urban popular culture. News reports of strikes, for example, were an important element in the popular press, such as Pos Kota, Terbit and other dailies aimed at the popular readership in Jakarta. Moreover, they were mostly not hostile reports, as is mainly the case in the mainstream western media. The reports usually did report on conditions of the workers, and often had short interviews with the workers.
Furthermore, major press reporting of a few major incidents also gave labour issues additional legitimacy, even though these reports associated labour struggle or advocacy as dangerous. The first was the persecution of the labour lawyer and trade union “leader”, Mochtar Pakpahan, following mass worker riots in Medan in 1994. Even though his group had little to do with the worker protests in Medan, and even though Pakpahan repeatedly stated this himself, his trial and subsequent detention put labour issues on the map as mainstream issues. Furthermore, the press generally portrayed Pakaphan sympathetically. This also helped legitimise labour struggle. By 1994 legitimacy came from support from institutions outside the state rather than within it.
The huge publicity and sympathetic press coverage of the kidnapping, torture, rape and murder of the factory worker and activist, Marsinah, also contributed to the increase in the moral and political legitimacy of labour protest activity. The state was using imprisonment and murder to terrorise, but the public and press reaction was actually providing increased legitimacy and attention for the labour struggle.
However, the press reports operated at a very general level, giving a general legitimacy to labour protest. They only provided minimal information on the techniques of worker protest. In an environment of increasing spontaneous activity, buoyed by the public and press sympathy, the more organised sectors of the movement had from the beginning decided to produce what turned out to be a very popular and useful commodity. This was the “kronologi”. The ‘kronologi’ was a detailed account, often by the minute or every five minutes or ten minutes of all the stages in the preparation of and implementation of a protest action or strike. All aspects of the activity were covered: where workers gathered, how they were organised; the division of labour; how they approached the employers; how they dealt with the factory security; what they did when police or army arrived; who gave what speeches and when; and so on and so on. These very detailed documents were widely circulated among activists. Between 1990-992 many were also published in the magazine Progres, the first serious attempt to produce a magazine for the protest movement as a whole. It was circulated among activists and in all parts of the country. The production of these ‘kronologi’ remains an institution of the activist movement until today and is still especially frequently used by the PRD, both for external information as well as a form of internal field report.
By 1996, therefore, mass action activity by workers, peasants and students – alone in alliance – had become firmly established, both on the ground and as part of political culture. This was despite state repression and terror.
On important here is that organised street protest activity, including strikes, had been more integrated into political culture through the press coverage and word-of-mouth reporting of such activity than through any massive growth of workers, students or peasant mass organisations. The PPBI was a small organisation. The SBSI, which did not support a mass action strategy anyway, was also small. It is unlikely that more than 1% of the factory, office or shop workforce was in any kind of independent union. The PPBI’s base in individual factories was also fragile and whole factories could be lost to union coverage due to repression or the sacking of a few key leaders.
1996 and the changing sociology of urban mass politics
While the PRD’s systematic campaign to give political direction to the growing spontaneous worker (and peasant) unrest was beginning to have some effects, other developments began to mobilise even broader sections of the urban populations, especially the poorer sections. Resentful of the increasing domination of Jakarta based conglomerate capital and its incursions into the provincial economies, both on Java and off, sections of the provincial elites started to assert their own agendas mainly through the two existing political parties that retained some minimal independence from the state apparatus, namely, the Moslem United Development Party (PPP) and the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI). Joining the host of alienated provincial and small town cliques, was also a number of businessmen active on a national level but excluded from the big projects by the Suharto cronies.
The Suharto dictatorship adopted an immediately hostile stance to the specific manifestation of this phenomenon in the PDI. The assertion of independence by the PDI body politic throughout the country took the form of pushing forward the daughter of Sukarno, the man whom Suharto overthrew and imprisoned and who still was a symbol of concern for the “little people” in contrast to Suharto, who had become a symbol of super-wealth and corruption. In the course of her struggle to win and keep the leadership of the PDI against the wishes of Suharto, Megawati Sukarnoputri emerged as a symbol of opposition to Suharto, especially among wide sections of the poor of Jakarta and of many of the towns of Central and East Java and Bali.
The Sukarno-Suharto contrast and its symbolism were already hitting a sensitive nerve. While the international economic crisis did not hit Indonesia until 1997, even in 1996 the consciousness of the rich-poor gap was widespread, especially, of course, among the poor. The attempt to suppress Megawati’s leadership of the PDI also happened during a period of political frustration brought about by the regime’s ending of a brief flirtation with political liberalisation or “openness”. This ending was symbolised by the closure in 1994 of three major weekly newspapers.
In any case, Megawati’s defiance of Suharto on the question of her leadership of the PDI helped the PDI mobilise its neighbourhood mass membership in a way that it had not been able to do for three decades – at least outside of election periods. PDI neighbourhood branches became active again, soon numbering in the thousands. These branches were essentially gatherings of the neighbourhood urban poor, usually the under patronage of a better off neighbourhood patron figure.
Urban neighbourhoods, or kampung, comprise people with steady jobs in a factory, construction site, office or shop mixed with a huge majority that have only casual work, or work for the tiniest of enterprises, or sell their services as micro sub-contractors or service providers, or work as peddlers of some kind, or are pickpockets, thieves or conmen. Among the working poor in these kampung are children. The kampung population is a mixture of proletarian, semi-proletarian and very small petty bourgeoisie.
The aggressive attempts of the Suharto dictatorship to remove Megawati also tested the PDI’s ability to mobilise its mass base in protest action. The first major test took place in June 1996 when between 10,000 and 15,000 Megawati supporters (bolstered by contingents of student and PPRD supporters) attempted to march from the PDI headquarters in Jalan Diponegoro and Medan merdeka and were stopped by military at Gambir. Here a physical confrontation took place and several people were injured.
A second test took place on July 26, when the regime mobilised a force to attack and empty the PDI headquarters. Within hours, the PDI was able to mobilise several thousand supporters.
“The Urban Poor”
But events on and after July 26, 1996 also pointed to something else. Widespread rioting occurred in the aftermath of July 26, with attacks on government buildings and business houses, as well as looting. There were also attacks on police stations. The riots pointed to a level of desperation, anger and combativeness that was much more extensive than just among Megawati supporters. It pointed to a high level of anger directed against the wealthy and the government among significant sections of the population in Jakarta’s poor kampungs.
The politicisation of the urban poor communities (small u, small p) was manifested more clearly over the next 30 months.
Firstly, the PDI was able to organise many protest actions throughout Indonesia outside courthouses where there were court fights between the PDI and the regime. The PSI was taking either the government or the alternative PDI leadership recognised by the regime to court. In almost all, cases newspaper reports and reports from activists in the field confirm that these were mobilised from the neighbourhood support of the PDI. In one instance in Jakarta, the mobilisation was at least 20,000 strong.
Secondly, even before July 1996 urban poor discontent and frustration was being manifested in racial incidents in several towns in Java. This continued to spread after July 1996 as well.
Thirdly, there was a huge explosion of political combativeness from among the urban poor in May, 1997 during the 1997 general elections.
Mass mobilisation during the 1997 campaign was large in most cities, despite a formal ban against outdoor mobilisations. In most places, the state apparatus did not attempt to prevent these outdoor marches and rallies. During the official campaign period, each of the three parties allowed to participate – GOLKAR, PDI and PPP – were allocated days for mobilisations. Each had three turns. GOLKAR mobilisations were miserably low in post cases. Almost no significant PDI mobilisations took place because Megawati had issued instructions to PDI members to boycott the election campaign as a protest against the dictatorship’s refusal to recognise her leadership. The only mobilisations of any significance occurred on the day allocated to the PPP for mobilisations.
The first of these was very large involving at least tens of thousands of people. Many bought signs with the words Mega-Bintang or Mega-Bintang Bersatu or similar slogans on them. This was effectively a spontaneous mass demand for the two non-GOLKAR parties to unite against the regime. During this first mobilisation, where this trend became evident, the PRD distributed over 500,000 leaflets in Jakarta. These were small slips of paper, calling for a Mega-Bintang-Rakyat alliance to campaign for the abolition of the Dwifungsi of the Armed Forces, Repeal of all repressive political laws, restoration of Megawati to PDI leadership and an end to regime intervention in the internal affairs of political parties, and an 100% increase in wages, among others. These leaflets were distributed through targeted poor kampung areas. Kampung people eagerly took bundles of leaflets to distribute.
Some PPP second level leaders, especially in Solo took up the Mega-Bintang call and it received some press coverage. On May 14, the second PPP mobilisation day, both Indonesian press reports, confirmed by PRD field reports, over 1 million people mobilised in different parts of Jakarta, attempting to get to PPP rally points. The mobilisations took place along major thoroughfares that cut through major urban poor areas, which had been leafleted again the day before. Similar large mobilisations took place in other cities, being also very big in Surabaya. Mass leafleting also took place in Surabaya.
Again all reports indicate the people streamed out of the gang-gang, many carrying Mega-Bintang placards and many helping distribute more leaflets. The May 14 mobilisations exhibited particularly high levels of combativeness among the masses. Both in Jakarta and Surabaya, large contingents of urban poor attempted, sometimes succeeding, in breaking through military barricades. Several police stations were attacked and burned down. Street fighting occurred in many places in both Jakarta and Surabaya. Again, in all cases, the masses involved had come out of the kampung gang.
The urban poor mobilisations during the May election campaign, both in Jakarta and elsewhere, were the most combative since they started in June, 1996. But they also took place under new and usual circumstances. Firstly, they were compressed into essentially two days. And secondly, they took place despite the fact that both the PPP and PDI-P leaderships tried their best to minimise the demonstrations. Megawati had called on her supporters to boycott campaign activity altogether. Yet in Jakarta, Solo, Jogjakarta and Surabaya many of those mobilising on the PPP election campaign day carried photos of Megawati’s father, Sukarno. Some police stations were attacked when police tried to confiscate the photos. Both the PDIP and the PPP leaderships (with the exception of some renegade branches) also publicly refuted and dissociated themselves from any kind of anti-regime Mega-Bintang alliance.
These mobilisations were a great shock to the whole ruling elite. Many elite figures altered their political tactics after these events. However, at the same time, the mobilisations were followed by a relative vacuum of activity, especially among the urban poor. (There was in fact, more activity among the urban poor of smaller towns, including anti-Christian and anti-Chinese activity.) Sensing the potential for further radicalisation among the poor of the Jakarta kampung, the PRD deployed many of its cadres to these kampung. However, most attempts to organise the urban poor into ongoing political activity failed, except in areas where there were also active student and worker bases, mixed in with the semi-proletarian population. PRD organisers reported no lack of receptivity to the political issues raised by them nor any lessening of hatred of the regime. However, activity dropped away completely, except for a few pockets. There is stil debate among PRD organisers as to whether this was due to objective reasons, or because the organisers themselves were too impatient.
In any case, the relative lack of protest actions among the urban poor (and factory workers for that matter) during the several months after May 1997 was compensated for by a sudden upsurge in student protest activity, starting in Lampung in late 1997. The Lampung student protests, involving both university and high school students, were combined with a public transport strike. They were also preceded by the only strike I have heard of among railway workers.
By this time also the 1997 Asian financial crisis had hit Indonesia. The whole country went into deep crisis. The tactics of the student movement helped sustain the radicalisation among the kampung population in most cities. The students were aiming their protests more and more directly at Suharto. Their main tactic, which spread through the country to scores of campuses, was to march outside campus consciously in defiance of orders by the army not to do so. Physical confrontations between students and the military became commonplace and the kampungs became the refuges for many fleeing students. The kampungs near campuses also often became the source of food and drink.
The relationship between state repressive violence against the students and the sentiment of the urban poor was also a crucial factor in May 1998 when the Jakarta urban poor once again made their presence felt. Army snipers shot dead six students at the Trisakti University. The news brought people out from the gangs again, gathering to discuss the news. This happened in the midst of soaring food price rises and food scarcity, with the dictatorship unable to make any improvements in the situation. Mass sentiment was already angry and desperate. Rioting exploded throughout Jakarta, and in some other cities. It was during the May riots also that elements associated with the ultra-right wing intelligence agencies also used the tactic of scapegoat Chinese citizens for the economic crisis, with horrific results.
The rioting in general, however, was spontaneous and again targeted symbols of the regime and wealth, as well as being characterised by looting. It rocked the regime, indicating that the mass opposition to the regime exhibited in May 1997 had not disappeared. The atmosphere of instability and depression also further encouraged the student movement.
It is worth noting here that the possibility of an explosion of mass anger had already been identified by the PRD in early May. The PRD student leaders, active at that time in the broad cross campus coalition Forum Kota, urged that the student movement announce quickly that the whole population were invited to mass demonstrations planned for May 19 or 20. The PRD’s argument was primarily that a broad mobilisation of the whole population would more effective in pressing to Suharto to resign as well as winning other demands, such as the abolition of the Dwifungsi of the military. But they also argued that failure to give political focus to the growing mass anger would result in the anger exploding in a more chaotic and anarchic manner. The PRD’s proposal was put to an assembly of FORKOT on May 12 and lost by just a few votes. (This also marked a split in FORKOT with PRD students withdrawing.) During the student occupation of the DPR/MPR complex over May 19-21, the student leadership kept out all non-students. It was only on May 22, that non-student masses were able to join the occupation.
The urban masses presence in the political processes during May (as well as before) kept mass political sentiment high. PRD organisers in the urban poor kampungs reported an increase in neighbourhood protests over local issues as well as a general heightening of political discussion. The overthrow of Suharto had lifted a veil of fear. Furthermore, the bigger political parties were preparing already for elections looming in 1999 and had began agitating and organising in the kampungs. It was during the months after May 1998, that posko (pos komando), i.e. neighbourhood party kiosks or depots set up on the footpaths, became a major widespread phenomenon. These posko were also essential mobilising mechanisms for the parties among the urban poor.
Another session of the MPR was scheduled for November 1998 and it also became the target for major mobilisations. The student organisations were spearheading the demonstrations which were primarily aimed against President Habibie as an extension of the Suharto regime and also calling for an end to the dual function of the military. This time the student groups involved agreed that the rest of the population should be invited to join the mobilisations. The organising committee planned marches on the MPR from different parts of the city. Different student organisations were allocated different areas of the city to mobilise. The PRD students and its allies were given the east/west? . As in May 1997, they carried out mass leafleting prior to the mobilisation the kampungs where they had been agitating and organising. The street mobilisations in the approaches from the east/west reached at least 200,000, if not more. Military barricades stopped the whole of the march reaching the MPR.
During these days, the combativeness of the Jakarta urban poor was again reflected in the spontaneous physical defence of students carried out by kampung dwellers when students came under attack from militia mobilised by the military from outside Jakarta.
There were plans for further mobilisations over the following days but the majority of the student leadership at the MPR called off the MPR occupation after it became clear that neither Megawati, Amien Rais nor Wahid were willing to attempt to seize power through revolutionary means or reject collaboration with Habibie or the military. The mobilisations ended abruptly.
November 1998 was the last major urban poor PROTEST mobilisation until the pro-Wahid anti-GOLKAR mobilisations in Surabaya in February, 2001. During this period, most mass political energies were channelled into the 1999 elections. The 1999 elections did not take place in a protest framework but were dominated by mobilisations behind different party personalities, both national and local.
None of the major parties, PDIP, PAN, PKB, PBB and GOLKAR offered significantly different political platforms. Mass sentiment seeking a solution to the social and economic crisis still afflicting the country sought the solutions in the ascendancy of the different prominent personalities: Megawati, Amien Rais and Wahid.
After Suharto: Two axis of struggle and the two sectors of the urban poor
(a) Against the New order coalition
Although Suharto was forced to resign, the commercial, tribute collecting, repressive and political machine that Suharto helped create remained intact. It had been forced back and was in a weaker political position, but as a complex of institutions, it remained intact. This military-political-tribute apparatus complex was represented by the Armed Forces (including the police), GOLKAR, the ultra-right moslem parties and most of the media (which was still owned by Suharto cronies). I will refer to this as the New Order coalition.
Very quickly, this coalition moved against the figures who had become the symbols of hope for significant sections of the urban (and even rural) poor. GOLKAR, the Armed Forces and the moslem parties blocked Megawati from becoming president. This could have led to another wave of major urban poor mobilisations, except that Megawati and the PDIP leadership worked hard to prevent any such mobilisations. In particular, theyh moved several weeks before the MPR Session to elect the President to ensure that the majority of neighbourhood POSKO were not re-established. They had been gradually closed down after the 1999 elections.
The GOLKAR-Moslem rightist-military alliance threw their support behind Abdurrahman Wahid instead. But they quickly withdrew their support after he spoke out in favour of lifting the ban on communism, tried to promote outspoken military anti-corruption campaigner Agus Wirahadikusuma and challenged the authority of GOLKAR and the army on other issues. Wahid, like Megawati before him, also has worked to prevent his supporters, especially the Urban poor of East Java’s cities and towns – and villages also – from mobilising. But he has met resistance from a younger generation of local leaders who have insisted on mobilisations on several occasions. The biggest was in Surabaya in February. East Javanese press reports, as well as PRD field reports, estimate that close to a million people mobilised.
Formally, these mobilisations were undertaken by coalitions which included a broad range of groups opposed to a comeback to power of GOLKAR and the military. This meant that the formal political demands associated with the mobilisation were focussed on the trial of GOLKAR for crimes committed under the New Order and its dissolution, the end of the military’s role in politics, increases in wages and so on. However, while very many groups, including the PRD, were a part of this coalition, the overwhelming mass of those mobilised were mobilised through the networks of the Nahdatul Ulama and associated groups closely associated with Wahid. There was a combination of a mobilisation of the Wahid constituency with an agenda determined by a broad coalition of groups whose weight in the demonstration was weak. The result were mobilisations with two primary focii: support for Wahid as he faced manouvres against him in parliament, and the demand for the dissolution of GOLKAR.
Again combativeness was a feature of these mobilisations. In several cities the offices of GOLKAR were physically attacked.
Of course, there has been much less of such mobilisations from the PDIP kampung support base. Megawati stands to become President as the GOLKAR-military-moslem coalition shifts their support to her; However, in the recent few weeks, there have been several smaller but significant mobilisations by Jakarta branches of the PDIP based in some of the poorer kampung areas, especially from south and west Jakarta. These mobilisations have been calling for the PDIP to be cleansed of the many ex-GOLKAR and military personnel who entered GOLKAR just before the 1999 elections. These urban poor dominated branches of the PDIP have also demonstrated in support of the Wahid government’s intentions to investigate and try the head of the PDIP parliamentary faction, Arifin Ponirogo. These demonstrations point to a similiar trend, i.e. a willingness to mobilise against the New Order coalition, among the urban poor support base of the PDIP as well.
Interested in the first major demonstration by the National Coalition Against the New Order (KNAOB) in May this year, the younger leadership pf the NU mobilised 10,000 people, the anti-New Order wing of the PDIP also organises a contingent, while the PRD mobilised a smaller force of urban poor and students, but provided 80% of the speakers.
All the largest anti-New Order Coalition demonstrations have relied on mobilising the kampung poor support base of either the NU or the PDIP. It has been only in the last several months that the PRD has been organising its own urban poor sectoral formation, the GPK, whose mobilisations remain relatively small but very frequent.
(b) Workers, trade unions and confronting the neo-liberal economic offensive
There is no doubt that there are factory and service industry workers who have mobilised alongside the masses of semi-proletarian and impoverished petty bourgeois in the big Urban mobilisations between June 1997 and today. When they have done so they have done so as part of the neighbourhood flows of people coming out of the gangs (narrow, kampung lanes) into the main thoroughfare not as organised trade union contingents or other organised worker contingents. Sometimes, of course, the fact that they have permanent jobs or are located in factories on the outskirts of Jakarta have meant that they have been hardly present at all.
The organisation and the mobilisation of workers, in distinct worker formations, has continued to develop along a separate track until today.
There have been three key factors operating. First, there has been a lessening of state repression and control. repression now relies on the use of thugs and militia, which is less efficient and more uneven in its application (but often more brutal). Unfortunately, there are signs that this situation is about to be reversed. I will discuss this in a few moments. Trade unions, independent of the old government trade unions have mushroomed. According to Ministry of Labour sources, there is almost now 150 national unions recognised by the government, and hundreds more local and enterprise unions. Although this still represents a very small percentage of the modern proletariat, which had remained unorganised during the whole of the Suharto period, it is a very rapid process that is now occurring. Some of these new unions are being directly or indirectly supported by political parties or NGOS, but most are forming completely independently. This rapid expansion in organisation, however, has not meant an automatic expansion of mobilisation. Most of t he unions are content to confine their activities to negotiations and registration of collective bargaining agreements.
What tendency to mobilise which has developed has been a result of the pressure of the neo-liberal economic policies being implemented by the Wahid-Mega government. This is the second factor. This has been very evident in recent weeks with large and militant labour mobilisations against an austerity measure of the Wahid government reducing, and even abolishing some redundancy payments, for dismissed workers. The anger among workers on this issue has even forced the old GOLKAR union, the SPSI, to mobilise. It has been losing members rapidly to more active unions. The other neo-liberal policy that has provoked mobilisations has been the government decision to increase fuel prices.
During May and then June, large demonstrations took place in most Indonesian cities on these issues. In all cases, they were carried out by broad coalitions of trade unions. The size of the mobilisations was till in the thousands (up to twenty thousand), except in Surabaya where there have been mobilisation of up to one hundred thousand. These Surabaya and Sidoarjo mobilisations have also been more militant and combative, involving occupations of the provincial parliament buildings.
The third factor influencing developments in the trade union arena has been the big Urban poor mobilisations themselves. I think it is not an accident that the biggest worker mobilisations over the last few months has also been in East Java, where mass alienation from the political order has also been greatest and where the pro-Wahid anti-GOLKAR mobiliations have been largest.
There are a number of aspects of this.
Firstly, the struggle between the New Order Coalition, based in the parliament, and President Wahid has opened up a very large political discussion, which has seeped down to all levels of society. A twin discourse has developed reflecting the two arenas of struggle. The record of Suharto and GOLKAR is being constantly revisited, especially via the various debates about and attempts to investigate corrupt individuals from the New Order period. Anti-communist agitation has been used as part of the weaponry against Wahid and the PRD. The role of the militia and thugs is becoming more openly discussed and this is an issue which directly affects worker organisation. In addition, the record and nature of the forces that dominate the parliament are also under the spotlight. Revelations about the wealth of prominent parliamentarians is constantly in the media. The initial support and clearly opportunist fake criticism of the fuel prices rises is also much discussed in trade union circles. The majority vote against a human rights court to investigate the student killing of 1996 has been another issue. So too has been the general grandstanding of parliamentary members.
Secondly, it also appears that a new trend is beginning, namely, for factory workers to also respond to leafletting campaigns for mobilisations, whether or not they are members of a trade union or whether they have any pre-existing organisation in the factories. This was very apparent in recent demonstrations and strikes in Bandung, where leafleting and travelling trucks with loudspeakers were able to mobilise non-union workers from several factories. (In Bandung, the whole strike turned into riots after the SPSI leadership abandoned its contingent of workers, the largest, when confrontation with the police seemed imminent.)
The more open political climate and heightened level of political conflict and discussion combined with the consolidation of large scale mass mobilisation as a regular political activity appear to be bridging the gap in political culture between the organised worker sector concentrated in the industrial sectors on the outskirts of Jakarta and the unorganised worker and semi-proletarian kampung masses.
Search for general solutions
The big mobilisations of the unorganised poor (including some workers) in Jakarta since June 1996 have been, in one way or other, oriented towards the major political parties (though not always in the form of simple support, as with the Mega-Bintang demands). The mobilisations of workers have primarily been through trade unions around immediate economic issues. The impulse behind the former has been the desire for some kind of general solution to the worsening situation among the mass of the poor kampung population. This impulse strengthened after the 1997 economic crisis. The essence of the solution that the urban poor masses have opted for has been for a change in the national political leadership: remove Suharto and replace him with somebody else.
The worker mobilisations have not been oriented towards general solutions but the resolution if immediate demands and problems. Most of the effectively ORGANISED workers have been concentrated in the industrial estate areas on the outskirts of Jakarta, concentrated among garment, footwear and plastic goods workers. Many of these workers are new to Jakarta and not yet integrated into kampung life and its pre-existing networks of party affiliations, sympathies and debates. Also this is changing. Furthermore, most of these workers, despite their pathetic wages and conditions, have relatively assured incomes, where the big mass of semi-proletarians have no such even relative security and are more susceptible to the worsening economic instability. There is more pressure on these people to seek a general solution as well as a greater familiarity with national politics.
The neo-liberal offensive and the New Order coalition offensive are reducing the political gap between proletarians and semi-proletarians. One early sign is the larger and more combative worker mobilisations in Surabaya and Bandung, and the more politicised and broader mobilisations on this year’s May Day. The second sign, still very tentative, but potentially extremely significant are the initial stirrings among the “old proletariat”. By “old proletariat” I mean sectors such as the port workers, sailors, sailors, mine workers and automobile factory workers, among others. The vanguard in the 1990s has been textile and garment workers, new young workers from the villages, who live in easily identified communities and hostels near their workplaces. The old proletariat has been more-or-less quiescent, especially in Jakarta, other Javanese and Sumatran cities.
These early signs include strikes by railway workers on the line out of Lampung in south Sumatra, a big port strike in Jakarta organised by a new port workers union, a strong FNPBI union among port workers in Bitung, FNPBI expansion and strike action in Indomobil in Jakarta and motor bike assembly plants in Sumatra.
There are explosive times ahead, especially given the other factors also stirring Indonesian society.