Indonesia: Occupation of Istana factory continues

Interview with union Chairman, Kiswoyo

Textile workers from the Istana Magnoliatama factory in north Jakarta have been occupying their workplace for more than 2 years. Socialist Party National Organiser Anthony Main visited the factory in late November and interviewed Kiswoyo – a member of KASBI and the union Chairman at the plant.

Anthony: Firstly, how many people were originally employed here and what was the factory producing?

Kiswoyo: “This factory is owned by an Indonesian based company and originally employed about 900 workers. Almost all of the workers were women. We were producing many different types of garments including t-shirts, track pants and women’s clothes. We produced a lot of brand names like GAP, Adidas and Banana Republic.

Anthony: How did the dispute first come about?

Kiswoyo: “Well originally about 460 of the 900 workers were permanent staff, the rest were contract workers. Contract workers in Indonesia are employed on a short term basis and have fewer rights than permanent staff. Employers prefer contract workers because they are easier to get rid of and harder to unionise.”

“In July 2007 the management of the factory told us that they wanted to close the business. They claimed the company was going broke. We refused to believe them because our wages were being paid on time and there were still many orders coming in. They were exporting a lot of product to places like Japan and Canada as well as locally.”

“Management promised that they would pay us two months wages and redundancy payments if we agreed to sign a document saying that we did not want to be re-employed by the company.”

Anthony: Why do you think management wanted to close the plant?

Kiswoyo: “The union believed that this was an attempt by the company to get rid of all of the permanent staff and replace them with contract workers. Currently it is forbidden by law for companies to employ contract workers to replace permanent staff. We saw this as an attempt to get around the laws.”

“The union was not about to see hundreds of permanent jobs be thrown away. It was clear that the company was just trying to increase its profits and put the workforce in an even more precarious position. We refused to let the management get away with this so when they closed the factory we decided to stay and occupy the plant.”

Anthony: Did you try to keep the factory running?

Kiswoyo: “Yes, in the beginning we were able to keep the factory going. We continued to take orders and produce goods for many small shops in the area. Unfortunately we no longer have any electricity and our generator is only big enough to run a couple of machines. This no longer makes it worthwhile but we still make many of our own clothes.”

“When the managers left we locked the gates and told them we were taking over their factory and equipment until we got our jobs back. We also registered the dispute with the Department of Labour and we currently have a case before the courts. So far, in the courts, we have won the right to be paid 10 months wages but even this is not good enough. We want to protect the jobs. This is the most important thing.”

Anthony: How have you managed to keep going for more than 2 years without wages?

Kiswoyo: “It is obviously very hard to live without wages. As you can see many people here have families and small children. We support each other and manage to raise a bit of money from our supporters. In the beginning we also raised money by singing in the streets and approaching other workers to support our struggle.”

“KASBI has also been able to raise money for us from other members and we have had support form organisations like the PRP (Working Peoples Association). Those workers who have had to find new jobs also make regular donations to those maintaining the occupation”

Anthony: Are you confident you can win this dispute?

Kiswoyo: “Yes we are very confident. We know that this will have to be resolved one way or another. Our power lies in the fact that we won’t sign their documents and that we have taken their factory off them.”

“We have been here 2 years and endured all sorts of hardships. Management have harassed us with hired thugs and tried all sorts of things to make us give up. Nothing has worked. Our demand is that they reopen the factory and reinstate all of the staff. We will stay here until those demands are met.”

The Socialist Party (SP) in Australia and the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) salutes the brave stance of the Istana workers and calls on workers in Indonesia and around the world to support their struggle.

For more information visit the Confederation Congress of Indonesian Union Alliance (KASBI) website here:

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December 2009