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Date: Mon, 27 Oct 97 08:44:37 CST
From: bghauk@berlin.infomatch.com (Brian Hauk)
Subject: Workers In Asia Resist Austerity Measures

Workers In Asia Resist Austerity Measure

By Maurice Williams, in the MIlitant
Vol. 61, no. 37. 27 October 1997

Workers and students have begun to organize protests against austerity measures imposed by the regimes in Southeast Asia in response to continued economic turmoil in the region. Transport workers struck in the Philippines and paralyzed traffic in eight cities demanding a reversal of increased oil prices and calling for a pay raise. Under this pressure, the Philippine Supreme Court issued a 30-day injunction October 7 on any new price increases.

Some 16,000 aerospace workers in Bandung, Indonesia, struck October 13 and held mass rallies protesting threatened layoffs. Indonesian students rallied October 6 outside the Bulog - the state monopoly that regulates food prices - demanding the resignation of its director and a price freeze on staple foods. Factory workers there are organizing work stoppages to force the employers to pay their wages.

Indonesia's currency, the rupiah, has lost some 35-40 percent of its value against the dollar since August 14, when it was freed from any set relation with the U.S. currency. With a public debt estimated at more than $50 billion and private debt at $55 billion, the regime requested aid October 8 from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. On September 3 President Suharto announced a "self- imposed IMF program" of budget cuts that included suspension of $13 billion in construction projects for power plants and toll roads.

A team of IMF officials traveled to Jakarta October 10 where they are drafting a "rescue package" of at least $12 billion. In return, the officials of the imperialist financial institution are pressing the regime for steeper budget cuts and urging a reduction in subsidies on imported diesel and kerosene. More than 60 percent of the people living in rural areas in the country rely on kerosene for energy and lighting.

This comes at a time when Indonesia is suffering from its worst drought in 50 years. The drought is exacerbated by smog, as large plantation owners are torching forests and brush to clear land to grow palm trees as international demand for palm oil has soared. The Indonesian government is pushing for production of 7.2 million tons of crude palm oil by 2000, while plantation areas will more than double to 13.5 million acres. Residents of the island Siberut went to Jakarta in mid-September to protest the environmental disaster.

Suharto told the military during an October 5 parade to be prepared for any unrest. Gen. Feisal Tanjung, chief of the armed forces, pledged to crush any action that would disrupt the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for March 1998.

In response to these threats, Abdurrahman Wahid, a leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, an organization that opposes the government, declared, "If there are any unconstitutional actions, we will not hesitate to use our force to defend democracy."

"What we're seeing is that the turmoil in Asia has not run its course," said head Greg Fager, head of the Asian department at the Institute for International Finance, after the Indonesian rupiah reached a new low October 6. This U.S. organization represents major financial institutions that invest in and provide loans to "emerging markets."

The currency turmoil in the region was triggered July 2 when Thai government dropped its currency peg to the dollar and the baht plunged. The Thai currency has lost 38 percent since that time. Many Asian companies borrowed heavily in U.S. dollars and were forced to repay loans with diminishing export earnings. According to figures from a 1997 report issued by the World Bank, Thailand's foreign debt climbed from $8.2 billion in 1980 to more than 56 billion in 1995. A banking crisis continues to stalk Malaysia as well. "Only a handful of finance companies are tipped to survive beyond 1999," the Financial Times of London reported October 8. "The chances of a systemic banking failure such as is unfolding in Thailand, are considered remote," however, the article assured.

As a result of the currency crisis, the government of Thailand recently dropped its plans to build a $3.7 billion mass transit and tollway system in Bangkok. The regime in Malaysia postponed building a $5 billion hydroelectric dam, and Jakarta shelved 14 infrastructure projects in Indonesia, including a $525 million-gas fired power plant owned by the U.S.-based Enron Corp.

Meanwhile Tokyo has the worst budget deficit among "Group of Seven" major capitalist nations. Industrial production declined 2.2 percent in August. Japan's gross domestic product fell 2.9 percent in the second quarter.

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