Pete Moss is a LabourStart correspondent based in Australia. He’s just returned from a visit to Indonesia.
Firstly, this is a period of great opportunity for the Indonesian labour movement to build strongly on gains made in recent years.
Secondly, any international support will be warmly welcomed, including from LabourStart, which is well known and respected among Indonesian unionists.
Unions have won massive gains over the past few years, including a national social security system that will deliver pensions and healthcare for all. The three major union confederations also came together in 2012 for a mighty campaign that delivered a 44 percent increase in the minimum wage. This year Indonesia successfully concluded elections that position the archipelago as the leading democracy in South East Asia. Continued economic growth in this resource-rich diverse nation of 250 million will position Indonesia as a global powerhouse.
The underlying conditions are very positive but inequality is also increasing. Unions face many battles to ensure that workers and their communities are fairly rewarded.
One challenge springs from the scattered structure of the labour movement, which at last count included six registered confederations, 91 federations and 437 enterprise unions. This vibrant movement has emerged only since 1998, when protests brought down the New Order regime and ILO conventions were ratified.
This year the movement divided over the July presidential election. Unions actively intervene in politics, but there is no united strategy and no social democratic or labour party.
Labour Start has a positive profile and universal recognition among the union leaders and labour activists I met. Particularly appreciated are Labour Start’s Indonesia campaigns, including two for the IndustriALL-affiliated pulp and paper union so far in 2014.
One construction union general secretary pointed to a poster on his office wall and said: ‘When our leader was jailed, Labour Start supported him.’
Several local unionists are active Labour Start supporters, including Indah Budiarto, Nelson Saragih and Khamid Istakhori. Indonesian unionists are keen to further enhance links with the international movement. Union training was cited as one area where assistance could make a real difference.