Indonesia: Workers and Youth Explode in Protest Against Labor Law Deregulation

By David Martinez

For three straight days, millions of Indonesians have protested a sweeping new omnibus labor bill designed to cut worker’s rights, carrying out nationwide strikes and militant confrontations with the state’s repressive forces. Factory workers across the country rallied and protesters, including much of Indonesia’s large youth population, set fires to police stations and faced off with riot police.

Many labor organizations have attempted to disaffiliate from the rebellious actions, but the fury of the masses has not been contained by their peace policing nor the state’s repression.

Police, including plainclothes officers, arrested hundreds in the capital of Jakarta where fires were set to police posts and transit stations. Protesters threw rocks and launched kicks into walls of riot shields. The fences of government buildings in Semarang were torn down and protesters set tire fires and threw molotov cocktails at police in Bandung.

The new labor laws include cutting minimum wage, shortening the time period of severance pay, allowing businesses to provide only one guaranteed off-day a week, and more. The package also allows for less environmental oversight over industry.

The bureaucratic capitalist leaders of Indonesia have attempted to blame the coronavirus pandemic for the general economic crisis and implemented the labor law with the goal of stimulating investment that they claim will benefit the people. But the legislation is the predictable move of the country’s bourgeoisie in response to the imperialist overproduction crisis, cutting wages and weakening workers’ rights in order to facilitate the super exploitation of the country’s proletariat on behalf of international finance capital.

In 2018, US companies made $11.1 billion in foreign direct investments in Indonesia, but the country lags behind other Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore in the competition for imperialist investment.

Until 1998, Indonesia was ruled by US backed ruler, Suharto, who in 1965 led the massacre of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) and more than 2 million Indonesians, with US support. This tragic history, and the contemporary mobilizations only emphasize the need for a reconstituted, militarized Communist party to lead the Indonesian people in overthrowing the Old State in a new democratic revolution.


Editor’s Note: The original published version of this article described the Communist Party of Indonesia as ‘unarmed’ and ‘legalist.’ This was not fully accurate—the Party led militant protests, fought armed clashes against the fascist coup, and controlled some areas outside of state control. The PKI did take part in the bourgeois nationalist government, occupying many government positions prior to Suharto’s coup, and failed to develop a People’s Army in time to defend itself.

Additionally, it cited a death count of 1 million people, which is a low estimate of the number of Party members and Indonesian people who were massacred by Suharto with US backing.

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