Organising against the bosses... and the unions

Submitted by Anon on 12 August, 2004 - 2:55

Indonesian sweatshop worker on the daily grind

The front running candidate in this month's Indonesian Presidential elections, former general Susilo Baubang, may face a run-off election in September. If this so-called "thinking general" wins he will not change the government's commitment to free market economics. The economics which have left 40 million Indonesians unemployed and half of the population of 220 million living on less than US$2 a day.

Nenang works in a factory that makes products for several major sportswear companies. He visited Britain recently*. He described the reality of Indonesian capitalism to Mick Duncan.
On a normal day in the factory where I work, I wake up at 4.30 am, pray and take a shower and by 5.15 I am ready to leave for work. At 5.30 I catch a public minibus and arrive for work at about 5.55, to start work at 6.

The company are very strict if you are late and they can fine you. At 10 am we have a break for half an hour and at 2 pm we are finished. That's the pattern for an early shift. Otherwise I leave the house at 6.30 and work from seven till three.

I work in the cutting department.

After work I look for things to do, like watching TV or reading magazines or listening to music.

If there is extra work to do, or there is high demand, we have to work until six or eight o'clock. It can be really tough sometimes to make all the garments according to the targets we are given. If we don't want to work late we have to go and see the supervisor and give a very good reason. If your reason isn't strong enough or you lie to get out of overtime you can be given a warning.

The supervisor has a lot of power and we don't stand up to him really. We just try not to be noticed because we are worried that if we do we will be dismissed. We do have unions but they are not able to represent our interests. We have to negotiate everything ourselves with the supervisors, so we have to stay on good terms.

I have to cut around three to four thousand pieces per day, but it can be more than that. It can be really tough to get them all done in time. I get paid about 600,000 rupiah a week. That is about 35 pounds.

The factory I work in makes for several brands including Umbro, and lots of others. I know about those brands because I have seen the labels but I work in the cutting department so I don't see the finished products. I think we make mainly tee shirts.

About 700 of us work in my factory. We talk to each other, about our work, what we make, how to stand up to the supervisors and things like that.

One time I complained about not being paid some wages due to me. I was immediately moved from quality control to the cutting department. That is not as good a job. That is how they deal with people.

Day-to-day it is not so much direct intimidation or bullying, but if you stand up for yourself you get transferred or get a warning or even suspension and the sack. No one does anything the supervisors don't want us to do.

My bosses don't know that I am in Britain. If they did it is highly likely that I would be sacked. But I have to try to do something, that is why I am here. The problem for us workers is we don't know what to do, how to act and the consequences for us if we do act.

I have heard about the Codes of Conduct that the brands have. There is information in our factory but it is in English and before people explained to me here in England what it meant I had no idea what it was.

We have two "yellow unions". One is the IKKT, which started off as a co-operative society to make sure that everyone got their daily needs and then started lending out money. It was created by management and most of the members are managers. Eventually the company said you had to be a member of the union in order to borrow money and that is how they get members and how they keep control over you once you are in debt to them. They don't do the things you imagine a union doing.

We had a problem once and the IKKT would not help us so we joined with SBSI. We elected a chairman and a deputy and tried to change things. But the chairman and his deputy were straight away transferred to another department and there was suddenly no communication within this department.

Also there is a member of the government in the union, and we had to report to him everything we did. He sent a delegation to the factory. All that we heard after that was that the chairman and his deputy had been demoted.

We really need help and advice to find a way out of our situation. We would like to meet trade unionists from England to give us training on how to negotiate with management and what tactics we can use to get organised.

The tour was organised by Labour Behind the Label.

Appeal: against union-busting in Sri Lanka

In December 2003 workers at the Workwear Lanka Company in Sri Lanka formed a branch of the Free Trade Zones and General Services Employees Union. The factory is in the Biyagama free trade zone (FTZ). Since then, management have carried out union busting activities including intimidation, harassment, demotion and transfer of branch union members, and suspension of services of branch union officials.

The union has complained to the government about management's behaviour, which is illegal under Sri Lankan law, but so far nothing has been done. The union has started an international campaign and wants to receive messages of support.

Send messages via the link on the Labour Start website.

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