Midnight Notes' Chronology of Asian and Oceanian Workers' Struggles 1995-1997

Submitted by Fozzie on April 22, 2018

The Asian/Oceanian Crisis of 1997 has been extensively analyzed by the business media, the research teams of the IMF and U.S. government officials. Their consensus is that it is a crisis was caused by the weak, "immature" banking systems of the "Asian Tigers." Bankers simply made too many bad loans to their cronies. Their solution is simple: let the IMF take over the Asian banks and finance ministries to ensure transparency and efficiency in the future.

But whenever the global media establishment points to monetary faults in this period, they are invariably referring beyond controllable transgressions of bankers, speculators and stock jobbers to the original sin of capitalism: class struggle. The ultimate source of all crisis is the reduction of profits by working class action. And one need not go far to see that this original sin was flourishing in Thailand, Indonesia, East Timor and especially South Korea, where millions of workers struck against "neoliberalism" in December 1996 and January 1997 before the grim gaze of a nuclear-armed U.S. occupation army.

The following Chronology should be a useful prophylactic for our reader who might, unhappily, find him/herself in the company of the insidious minions of the business media who continue to spout "good fundamentals" and "corrupt trading practices" while the streets are filled with tear gas, bullets and bludgeons.

South Korea. Jun. 8, 1995
President Kin Young Sam warned that a planned strike at the state-owned telephone company would be akin to "an attempt to overthrow the state."

South Korea. Jun. 19, 1995
Workers at Hyndai Heavy Industries approved a provisional wage agreement providing for a 5.6% wage increase and bonuses of three months pay.

East Timor. Oct. 12, 1995
Indonesian troops were ordered to "restore order" after major protest riots and demonstrations in the capital of Dili.

Indonesia. Dec. 7, 1995
The Dutch and Russian embassies in Jakarta were occupied by 113 Timorese and on-Timorese to protest the Indonesian government's occupation of East Timor.

South Korea. March 13, 1996
Two leaders of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, Yang Kyu Hon and Kwon Young Kil, were arrested. The Confederation brought a new militancy into the Korean union movement.

Irian Jaya (Indonesia).March 13 1996
"Rioting erupted again in the Irian Jayan town of Timika yesterday disrupting Freeport mine operations. Sources in Irian Jaya said more than 1,000 Irianese went on the rampage in Timika and the new town of Kuala Kencana damaging houses and hijacking vehicles. This followed a disturbance by several hundred people at Tembagapura, Freeport's mine, in the mountains 70km north of Timika on Saturday.

An army spokesman told AFP that 'The situation is getting out of hand here'. 'The police have given up and the military is awaiting orders to take action'.

The rioters, some armed with bows and arrows and axes, came from village communities around Timika and Tembagapura, including people from the Dani, Moni and Amungme tribes. Production at the Freeport mine was halted early on Monday following the troubles on Sunday. There were unconfirmed reports late yesterday that the rioters had tried to take over the airport at Timika.

About 300 Indonesian troops were being flown to Timika yesterday to help restore order. Two rioters were said to have been wounded by troops who opened fire on the protestors with rubber bullets, with one person believed to be in a critical condition.

Sources in Irian Jaya said that the rioting may have been sparked by a road accident late last week in which a Dani man was said to have been knocked down and injured by an expatriate Freeport employee.
Tribal leaders in the area of the Freeport mine are calling for a meeting with Mr James Moffett,US-based head of Freeport's holding company, Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold. Freeport spokesmen have denied that they colluded with the armed forces in a series of incidents that led to a number of civilian deaths.

Last week the National Human Rights Commission said that it would send an investigative team to Irian Jaya following a request from the local Amungme tribal council to re-examine allegations of human rights abuses in the vicinity of the Freeport mine. (The Australian, 3/13/96)

South Korea. Jun. 19, 1996
Large parts of the auto industry were shut down because workers at Kia Motors Corp., the country's second largest auto corporation, struck in a wage dispute.

Indonesia. July 27, 1996
Protesters rioted through downtown Jakarta after the security forces stormed the headquarters of the Indonesian Democratic Party, driving out the supporters of the PDI leader, Megawati Sukarnoputri, the daughter of Indonesia's founding President Sukarno. The riots left millions of dollars of damage in Jakarta's commercial district.

Thailand. October 1996
Hundreds of displaced peasants set up camp in front of the Government House demanding more compensation.

Indonesia. Dec. 15, 1996
The Indonesian Ministry of Manpower recently announced that the average regional minimum wages would rise by 10% throughout the country. The labor unions had demanded 15%.

Thailand. Dec. 16, 1996.
The torching of two Sanyo Universal Electric PLC buildings after negotiations over year-end bonuses broke down has stirred fears about Thailand's record of harmonious labor relations. The increasingly open conflictuality has been officially documented. "The Labor Ministry recorded 1,075 labor disputes in 1995, with 74 of them resulting in strikes or lockouts while in 1991 there were 495 disputes and 63 work stoppages. The confrontations are becoming sharper as well. For example, a strike against Japanese motorcycle manufacturer Suzuki's Thai operations shut it down for three months" (Far Eastern Economic Review, 1/9/97).

South Korea. Dec. 26-29, 1996
The largest series of strikes and walkouts in South Korean history, involving hundreds of thousands of workers, took place to protest the new labor legislation that allows companies to lay off and fire workers more easily and to avoid paying overtime in a more flexible work system.

South Korea. January 9, 1997
South Korea's primary labor group called the biggest strike in the nation's history to protest the controversial new labor law.

South Korea. January 15, 1997
A general strike was called by a coalition of labor unions. The unions claim that 600,000 workers observed the strike call, the government claims it was "only" 100,000.

South Korea. January 22, 1997
150,000 workers, according to the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, walked off their jobs to protest the new labor legislation. The wave of strikes over the previous three weeks have already "cost" South Korean corporations about $3 billion in lost production.

East Timor. March 23, 1997
There was a serious military crackdown against a group of about 250 unarmed East Timorese students who marched to the hotel where a representative of the U.N. General Secretary was staying. They wished to express their opposition to the continued integration of East Timor into Indonesia. They entered the hotel lobby and presented their written statement to an assistant to the U.N. representative. Soon thereafter, right in the hotel lobby itself, the Indonesian military began its assault on the students. The soldiers beat the students with sticks, shot at them and arrested those they could grab. The students were either pushed through the plate glass windows of the hotel or intentionally broke through them to escape. The Indonesian military, ever ready with an excuse for the inexcusable, claimed that the students were carrying machetes and knives. The U.N. envoy, Jamsheed Marker, has not issued a clear statement about what he saw if anything and his quips to the press indicate that he is buying the military's absurd version. His comments so far do not evidence any serious concern about the atrocity and its aftermath.

According to what we would consider to be the most reliable report, "21 were hit by bullets and 30 were injured by bayonets and broken glass. Among the injured some were captured and are being detained by the police, others managed to seek protection in Motael, in the convents and in their own homes. Some have disappeared and their whereabouts are not known." The report lists the names of 90 people who have disappeared, either they are in hiding or they are in the secret custody of the military. Of the 21 hit by bullets, an unknown number have died, anywhere from one to seven depending on the report.

Two days after the Dili incident, 32 Timorese students in Java and Bali entered the Austrian Embassy in Jakarta. Frustrated with Marker's lack of determination to meet East Timorese people during his 48 hours in East Timor, they demanded a meeting with him at the embassy (EAST TIMOR ACTION NETWORK / Madison).

Indonesia. April 28, 1997
A wage dispute at a factory near Jakarta that makes Nike shoes was resolved with employees winning a 10.7% wage increase. It was the second protest in a week against a Nike subcontractor.

Indonesia. April 28, 1997
"After rushing through the trials of the PRD (People's Democratic Party) defendants to their predetermined end, the judges in Jakarta read out the sentences yesterday, April 28. The PRD activists came to the courtroom for the opening of the session at around 10am. Wearing black headbands with the slogan "Democracy is dead" and T-shirts stating "Boycott the Elections" and singing songs such as "We Shall Overcome," they entered the courtroom under guard, told the judges they did not recognize the authority of the court and were then permitted to exit to a nearby holding cell. To the cheers of 200 supporters, the PRD continued its defiant boycott of the court up to the last. The judges, perhaps out of pique, decided to evict the entire audience and read out their 3 hour statement to a near empty courtroom.

In a meager attempt to appear lenient, the judges knocked one to two years off the already stiff sentences the prosecution demanded. Budiman got 13 years instead of 15, Garda got 12 instead of 13, Pranowo got 9 instead of 10, and so on. (See the listing below.) The only significant reduction was for Petrus who received 6 years instead of 12. Two other PRD activists, I Gusti Agung Anom Astika and Wilson Nurtiyas, will be sentenced next week.

What was the PRD ultimately convicted of? The judges' final decision, which reads more like a political statement than a legal document, makes it perfectly clear that the PRD's only crime was to criticize the government. The judges made no mention of the charges for which the PRD was originally arrested: masterminding the July 27 riot and propagating a communist ideology. The Suharto regime, unable to find anything to substantiate those charges that top officials hyped in the media last September, dropped them before the trial began.

In their statement, the judges so obviously incriminate themselves in a politically determined case that it would be unnecessary for us to make any comments. Just read an excerpt for yourself: "The defendants are proven guilty for holding meetings to establish the PRD, holding worker demonstrations, and making statements that contradict the facts of the New Order government. The defendants also do not accept Pancasila [the "state ideology"] as the only principle. Their acts do not only discredit the New Order government, they disturb state security and economic stability."

The judges defended the high sentences by blaming the defendants for their lack of remorse and recalcitrance during the trial: "Budiman does not deserve to be respected and honored because he has trampled upon the dignity of the court ... The defendant was arrogant to read a speech which has nothing to do with the case and discredited the New Order government, especially President Suharto." When the judges' own statement is a defense of the New Order, it is ridiculous to contend that Budiman's speech, which was the PRD's collective statement, was irrelevant to the case.

The sentences:

1) Budiman Sudjatmiko, 13 years;
2) B. Garda Sembiring, 12 years;
3) Ign. D. Pranowo, 9 years;
4) J. Eko Kurniawan, 8 years;
5) Suroso, 7 years;
6) Petrus H. Haryanto, 6 years;
7) Ken Budha Kusumandaru, 4 years;
8) Victor da Costa, 1 1/2 years;
9) Ign. Putut Arintoko, 1 1/2 years;
10) Dita Indah Sari, 6 years;
11) Coen Husein Pontoh, 4 years;
12) M. Sholeh, 4 years;
13) I Gusti Agung Anom Astika, not yet announced;
14) Wilson Nurtiyas, not yet announced."