Terry Symonds interviews Muchtar Pakpahan
How important are international links to you?
Solidarity among the union movement is very important, whatever their own ideology. There are also a few Australian businesses in Indonesia, particularly in mining, so it is important that our unions fight together for solidarity.
What was SBSI's stand on East Timor?
My union and I myself were the first to fight for a referendum for East Timor - it was one reason Suharto put me in jail, as a 'subversive'. Before, I wanted East Timor to become one nation with us, but the people of East Timor decided to be free, and I honour their decision. For the future, I suppose the trade union role in Indonesia and Australia is to support our friends in East Timorese trade unions to build democracy, rule of law, justice and human rights in East Timor.
What role did the SBSI play in Indonesia's democratisation?
The SBSI was involved in bringing reformasi to Indonesia, and in electing the current president, Gus Dur. The role of the SBSI for the future is to support the government, as long as it still supports reformasi.
How much change has there been for workers?
It's not easy yet for us to organise. In Riau, two leaders of my union were sent to jail after striking to demand a wage increase. The police and FSPSI, the former government union, joined with the military to intimidate my members and send them to jail. Such cases are going on in a number of provinces.
What do you think of the current Minister of Manpower?
Bomer Pasaribu was involved in labour rights violations, particularly since 1985 when he became secretary-general of the FSPSI. Then as president of that union he twice was involved organising demonstrations to insist that the government punish me. When he became commissioner of Jamsostek, the company which administers social insurance for workers, the company was full of scandals. He 'marked up' the budget. He was corrupt, and the new attorney general is still investigating him. We would like international unions to insist that President Gus Dur replace Bomer Pasaribu, for the international good appearance of Indonesian workers. His is still the 'New Order' appearance.
What is the future for the SBSI?
First, we want to reform the labour laws produced by 32 years of New Order government. Now, there are no laws to protect workers - all the laws protect companies and the military. Second, we want many officials replaced, particularly in the military, police and the Department of Manpower. Third, we want to strengthen my union through education and training. By the end of 2001, we aim to have at least a million due-paying members. Finally, discrimination about race (Chinese and non-Chinese) and religion (Muslim and non-Muslim) is rising here. I believe that only the trade union movement can build real democracy, rule of law, human rights and anti discrimination.