Despite heavy police repression, Indonesia's youthful independent labor movement continues to call out the workers to defend their rights.
The latest demonstrations of thousands of workers, mostly young women, took place in Tangerang on the outskirts of Jakarta. The scene: a plant that makes shoes for Nike, the giant U.S.-based sportswear company.
Workers at Hardaya Aneka Shoes Industry protested the fact that the company still pays them less than the new minimum wage of $2.50 a day, which took effect April 1. The shoes they sew and glue together cost anywhere from $40 to $150 a pair in the United States.
On April 22, some 13,000 workers marched six miles from the plant to the local town council. Their column stretch ed nearly two miles and totally blocked traffic, reported the newspaper Republika.
The women were singing and carrying placards reading "We want a decent living" and "Give us back our rights." Hundreds of security forces were present but there were no clashes.
A delegation of 24 workers then negotiated a pay raise with management. But once the workers went back to their jobs, the company tried to renege on the agreement.
So on April 25, the workers went out again.
This time, according to local newspapers, thousands of workers participated in a two-hour protest at the factory offices that ended up with windows, doors and furniture smashed and two cars burned. Two women were hospitalized when police waded in to break it up.
Company officials announced the plant would be closed over the April 26-27 weekend. Saturday is usually a work day.
On the same day that the shoe workers' struggle erupted outside Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, jail sentences were being imposed on two young labor activists in Surabaya, the country's second-biggest city.
On April 22 Judge Amrin Boer sentenced Dita Indah Sari, 30, to six years in jail. Coen Husein Pontoh, 27, was sentenced to four years for "subversion."
The two young union leaders had been accused of organizing a major strike of 20,000 workers in Surabaya last July.
Both are members of the People's Democratic Party (PRD). This is the first left-wing party to emerge in the more than 30 years since a fascist military takeover in Indonesia.
The CIA backed the 1965 coup--which unleashed a bloodbath of monumental proportions against Indonesia's progressive movement, very big at that time. Estimates of how many the military killed after the coup range as high as 1 million.
Once the military had broken the resistance of Indonesia's communists and nationalists, foreign investors moved in to take advantage of low wages and cheap natural resources.
Dita Sari has become a legendary figure to Indonesian workers. This young woman has put her life on the line in many labor struggles.
All along, she knew it was only a matter of time until the dictatorship of Gen. Suharto put her behind bars.
On April 28, police beat and arrested three people after more than 100 supporters of the PRD walked out of a court in Jakarta where party members were on trial.
These defendants had also been charged with subversion. But this time it was in connection with an uprising in the capital last July when police tried to shut down the headquarters of the Indonesian Democratic Party (PDI).
The PDI is headed by Megawati Sukarnoputri. Her father, Indonesia's first president, Sukarno, died while a virtual captive of the military.
The PRD members were not charged with any direct connection to the uprising, but with having "defamed" President Suharto and undermining government institutions.
PRD leader Budiman Sudjatmiko, 26, was sentenced to 13 years in jail, less the time spent in custody. Eight other PRD defendants got jail time ranging from 18 months to 12 years.
Every effort by the Suharto regime to contain the popular struggle seems to only lead to new confrontations.
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