Workers of the World news: Indonesia, Korea, Zanon, Houston cleaners

Submitted by cathy n on 20 November, 2006 - 2:48


The People’s Democratic Party (PRD) in Indonesia is to form a new political party at the end of November, according to website of International Viewpoint. Then the National Liberation Party of Unity (PAPERNAS) will hold a founding congress.

The PRD says they want to overcome the fragmentation of the workers’ and social movements by forming this broad party. They estimate that there are around 12,000 independent workers’ organisations organised around local or factory issues, but they are without a authoritative centre.

The PAPERNAS programme is organised around what they call “the three banners of unity” — repudiation of the foreign debt, nationalisation of the oil, energy and mining industries and national industrialisation. Their project is to “re-form the left to face up to the neoliberal agenda”.

Although the forces that make up the new party include urban poor and women’s organisations, it does not have an explicitly class struggle basis. According to Viewpoint its programme and name appear indistinguishable from left nationalism.

The new party seems to be wary of the rise of political Islamist forces in Indonesia, which got about 10% at the last elections — though their assessment is that Indonesia is not heading for an Islamic state. More worryingly, the chair of the new group said “we don’t have any specific campaign on the subject of fundamentalism”.

However they are highlighting a draft Pornography Bill which states that women should be banned from revealing the “sensual parts of their bodies”, including the legs, breasts and stomach. The Bill would also restrict women who work at night, which includes not only prostitutes but also any women working in bars or clubs.

But there are some signs of a fightback against reaction. In some regions like Tangerang outside Jakarta, Aceh and some others, which have special sharia local laws, there have been demonstrations. “Most of the women in Tangerang are workers and so they tend to be more political and more audacious. That’s where the opposition to sharia law has been strongest.”

• Full report:


Workers in South Korea were about to launch a general strike against anti-union laws as we went to press. The independent Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) called the industrial action in response to government repression of the Korean Government Employees Union (KGEU) and the Korean Federation of Construction Industry Trade Unions (KFCITU).

On 22 September the government sent in thousands of riot police to use “any means necessary” to shut down KGEU union offices. Out of 251 local union offices, 81 were completely shut down. Many members were injured and some were hospitalised. Other KGEU members and their supporters were arrested and detained. Overall 100 trade unionists have been imprisoned – about half of them members of the KFCITU.

Workers are also fighting the growing casualisation of labour in the country and a series of new anti-union laws.


Workers at the Zanon ceramics factory on Argentina celebrated their fifth anniversary under workers’ control by getting a three-year extension to their co-op.

Workers at the factory, now known as FaSinPat (Fábrica sin Patrón — factory with a boss), went to court so that they could continue running the co-op. The judge agreed — and even praised their running of the factory!

Zanon workers took over the factory late in 2001 after the owners abandoned it as the Argentine economy headed for the abyss.

In October 2005 the courts recognised the co-op created by the workers, giving them one year’s control over production and sales. This temporarily put off the threat of eviction, break-up or closing-down of the factory, which had hung over them for the previous four years. Before the completion of the term, on 31 October, with an imminent eviction threat, the workers asked for a three-year extension. This was granted and the terms put down in writing.

However, the fight at Zanon is not over, since the judgement “will allow at whatever time the conclusion of the mandate, obliging the co-operative to organise the restitution of goods within five days of notification”.

Houston cleaners

As we go to press thousands of migrant cleaners in Houston US, are into their fourth week of strike action. The cleaners who work in Houston’s office buildings receive the lowest wages and benefits of any major city in the US — only $4.16 per hour and no health insurance coverage.

Cleaning companies recently threatened to deport undocumented cleaners who support the strike, in order to break union efforts.

After voting to form a branch of the SEIU last year, 5,300 cleaners have been negotiating their first contract with Houston’s large cleaning companies. They want $6.69 per hour, health insurance, and more full-time jobs. Despite months of negotiations, the big cleaning companies have refused to offer even modest improvements. The bosses have intimidated and fired cleaners.

In response to the companies’ actions, cleaners began a strike on 23 October. Around 1,700 cleaners have walked off their jobs so far, with more set to join them as part of a phased-in, escalating strike plan. Many migrant rights organisations, local politicians and churches have joined with cleaners to support the strike.

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