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Elite trade union electoral support doesn't reflect membership vote

Tirto.id - May 2, 2018

Mohammad Bernie – The song Hello Hello Bandung was played and sung along to by thousands of workers who packed into the Senayan Sports Arena (Istora) in Central Jakarta as prospective presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto took to the stage alongside Indonesian Trade Union Confederation (KSPI) president Said Iqbal.

"In accordance [with the results] of the KSPI's national working meeting we support Prabowo in the 2019 [presidential election]", said Iqbal to the cheers of the workers present.

The KSPI used the opportunity to officially declare its support for the Greater Indonesia Movement Party (Gerindra) chairperson and former Special Forces (Kopassus) commander.

Iqbal also conveyed this support during a mass action commemorating International Labour Day or May Day near the State Palace in Central Jakarta. Iqbal even boasted that he could deliver 5-10 million votes for Prabowo in the 2019 presidential election.

"[As many as] 98 percent of KSPI members will vote for Prabowo Subianto. [There are] 2.2 million KSPI members and with their families almost 5.7 million people. We will endeavor to contribute 5-10 million votes for Prabowo Subianto", said Iqbal on Jl. Medan Merdeka Barat on Tuesday May 1.

Not evenly spread

Despite this however, it appears that Iqbal's call is not evenly spread down to the grass roots. There are still a number of KSPI members who took part in commemorating May Day who do not wholeheartedly support Prabowo.

One of them is Edi Suhandi (51). Edi, who began working at PT Unitex Bogor 30 years ago, said that he has yet to decide who to vote for in the 2019 presidential election.

"I'll consider the situation and conditions first. How genuine is Pak Prabowo's commitment to workers. Later if there is a clear commitment, perhaps we will follow the leadership's line. Essentially I haven't taken a position yet", said Handi, as he is known to his friends, when speaking with Tirto near the Horse Monument in Central Jakarta.

Handi says that he's not very concerned about which figure or who will be elected in the 2019 presidential election. According to Handi, what's important is how much a presidential candidate sides with workers.

A similar view was expressed by another KSPI member, Edi Subandi (35). According to Edi, over the last four years of his leadership, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has done quite well at his job, especially with regard to labour affairs.

"Yeah, it's like, you know, I'm still thinking about it. The thing is at the moment Pak Jokowi's doing really good. In terms of his handling of of labour problems it's perhaps really good", Edi said when speaking to Tirto near the Horse Statue in Central Jakarta on Tuesday.


The inconsistency between the peek leadership of trade unions and their members is also happening in the Indonesian Working People's Confederation (KRPI).

In her call for the Five Declarations of Indonesian Working People (Panca Maklumat Rakyat Pekerja Indonesia), KRPI general chairperson Rieke Diah Pitaloka repeatedly called on workers to "give a mandate to President Joko Widodo".

However voices of discontent over Widodo's leadership can also be heard from KRPI members. One of them is Suharyono (45) who said that over the last four years of Widodo's leadership there has been no change in workers' lives.

"Yeah, that's been our fate up until now, there hasn't been any change", said Suharyono speaking on the sidewalk of Jl. Medan Merdeka Barat in Central Jakarta on Tuesday.

One of the things he is critical of is Government Regulation Number 78/2015 on Wages (PP 78/2015). According to Suharyono, the regulation has harmed and is squeezing the life out of workers. In addition to this, he also highlighted the government's policies on foreign labourers.

Similar issues were also raised by an employee of PT Kodja Bahari Shipping and Dockyards, Nana Suryana. According to Nina, Widodo has not implemented the promises he made to workers during the 2014 presidential election campaign.

"Essentially during Pak Jokowi's term there hasn't been any changes for workers. So what he promised in 2014, as if he cared about working people, it hasn't been demonstrated yet", said Nina.

Not of one voice

Aside from leadership trade union support which does not reflect the votes of their members, there are also a number of labour organisations which are explicitly not supporting either Prabowo or Widodo in the 2019 presidential election.

The reason being that Widodo is seen as having failed to create prosperity for workers, while Prabowo is considered as being no better that Widodo because of his dark past.

"Our political position is that workers would be better off building their own party as a third or alternative political force", said Populist Democratic Trade Union (SEDAR) spokesperson Sherin when contacted by Tirto on Monday April 30.

SEDAR believes that Widodo's failures can be seen from the enactment of the PP 78/2015. Through this regulation, she said, the setting of annual wage increase is calculated based on the inflation rate and economic growth.

According to Sherin, the PP 78/2015 ignores the annual reasonable living cost index (KHL) survey which used to be used by workers to demand wage increases.

She also cited the massive infrastructure development program under the Widodo administration which has not been enough to create new jobs. According to Sherin, the government should be carrying out a program of national industrialisation in order absorb large numbers of workers.

SEDAR also believes that Prabowo is no better than Widodo saying that the trade union will not support him because they want to safeguard the mandate of reformasi – the reform process that began with the overthrow of former president Suharto in 1998.

Sherin says that Prabowo through his party have frequently been proven to support anti-democratic discourse. One example of this was Gerindra's support for the abolition of the direct election of regional heads and his party's push to give voice to the "Return to the 1945 Constitution" movement.

"Supporting Prabowo is the same as betraying reformasi... Prabowo is clearly problematic because he has a track record of human rights violations. Moreover this has been exacerbated with reactionary and intolerant [religious] groups gathering support for him", said Sherin.

[Translated by James Balowski for the Indoleft News Service. The original title of the article was Dukungan Serikat Buruh di Pilpres Tak Cerminkan Suara Anggota.]

Source: https://tirto.id/dukungan-serikat-buruh-di-pilpres-tak-cerminkan-suara-anggota-cJJ7.

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