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Union leader tours Australia

“The goal of our union is to create prosperity as a welfare state similar to that of Europe or the US”, Indonesian union leader Muchtar Pakpahan told 50 unionists gathered in the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union hall here on May 9.

“The first step to building prosperity is through building democracy through a set of principles”, Pakpahan, the general chairperson of the SBSI, the Indonesian Prosperity Trade Union, said. “These principles include social justice, equality, rule of law and the protection of human rights. There can be no prosperity while religious fighting continues.”

Pakpahan, touring Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne with SBSI assistant secretary Rekson Silaban, thanked Australian workers for their support for the SBSI which, he claims, now has a national membership of 1.5 million.

Pakpahan explained that SBSI is “a social movement, not just a traditional movement”, and is “working with a range of student organisations and NGOs to see what can be done for prosperity in the region”.

“International solidarity is required to improve the conditions of Indonesian workers”, he added.

Silaban explained the effects of Indonesia’s $35 billion debt problem. “The Indonesian government has asked the International Monetary Fund for this money and now the government is being dictated to by the IMF. The Indonesian government has been forced to cut subsidies to gas, electricity and education”, Silaban said.

Thirty per cent of this debt should be cut, he argued, as this “was going directly to Suharto’s cronies”.

“Indonesian workers shouldn’t be made to pay for these corrupt cronies”, he said. “We must bring the corrupt to prison.”

Silaban also criticised the military’s ongoing involvement in industrial issues. “The military are businessmen and are interested in profits”, he explained.

However, Pakpahan defended the present ban on communism and Marxist parties, saying, “According to historians, the communists are still responsible for the coup d’etat that murdered seven generals in 1965, though there appears to be some evidence that links these murders to Suharto and the CIA.

“Until history is rewritten, the SBSI continues to support the ban on communism and Marxist parties. The SBSI has agreed to lift the ban, but now is not the time. We need to settle the differences before lifting the ban, otherwise more killings could take place.”

Pakpahan also defended SBSI support for subsidy cuts to tertiary education, saying this could fund compulsory education at lower levels.

“At the moment, 30% of classroom seats are empty because most parents can’t afford compulsory education to a high school level. Cutting the subsidies would make this possible”, he said.

In Brisbane, Tim Stewart reports that Pakpahan told 65 unionists about how he became involved in the workers’ movement after becoming Indonesia’s first labour lawyer in 1976 and about his involvement in the movement which eventually toppled Suharto in 1998.

The union leader also explained that, now Suharto has fallen, his union’s main task is to set up “tripartite sectoral alliances” through which government, industry and worker organisations can negotiate realistic wage increases.

Pakpahan said he felt an “obligation to build a labour party” to further the work of the SBSI.

Sumber :  (JOHN GAUCI) Green Left, Sidney

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