May Day 2011

“I have celebrated International Labor Day in the last five years with visits to companies.” – President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono

"Workers from various labor unions demonstrate outside the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on International Labor Day on Sunday. They demanded higher pay and called on the government to make May 1 national Labor Day." (Jakarta Post/Nurhayati)

Rather than attempt to compile a summary of all the various May Day protests mobilizing thousands of workers in locations throughout Indonesia, I will instead  suggest to English readers that they can find coverage of May Day in Indonesia here, here, and here.  The main issues raised by protesters will be familiar:  improved wages to keep up with rising prices, an end to outsourcing and contract labor, and the implementation of previously promised social security programs.

Ridwan Max Sijabat of The Jakarta Post provides a fuller explanation of the proposed social security programs, the lack of movement by the government thus far regarding their implementation, and a fairly pessimistic view of the labor movement’s ability to push for state action.

Labor unions and pro-labor legislators are organizing mass rallies in big cities and industrial estates. More than 50,000 workers and students are expected to take to the streets on May 1 to protest the government’s reluctance to start implementing its national social security system (SJSN) and its rejection of a bill on insurers.

The 2004 National Social Security System Law required the government to issue 11 government regulations and 10 presidential instructions by October 2010 to implement five mandatory universal progams — healthcare benefits, occupational accident benefits, old-age risk benefits, pension benefits and death benefits.

Ridwan Max Sijabat’s claim that “The government has paid no serious attention to the planned mass rallies for May Day mainly because they will not be fruitful,” will seem overly pessimistic to some.  However, after the press coverage of the May Day events, one might come away with a similar feeling, with May Day protests representing an annual event of political awareness, but hardly a critical political moment.  Though I am sure it is more energizing on the ground.

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