MAC: Mines and Communities

Indonesian mine workers bludgeoned by state security forces

Published by MAC on 2012-04-18
Source: Statement, Huffington Post

The world's leading mineworkers federation, ICEM, has vigorously condemned recent attacks against employees of one of Indonesia's biggest mines.

A military brigade, serving the interests of London-listed Bumi Resources, has allegedly severely beaten twenty workers, causing them to be hospitalised.

The men were protesting against the company's failure to implement an agreement, negotiated last October at the country's KPC coal mines.

Although workers at Freeport-Rio Tinto copper-gold operations in Papua have now won some concessions, following extremely brutal action by "security" forces earlier this year, their own battle for basic rights is far from over.

Comments Dick Blin of ICEM: "There always has been an indigenous movement here to stop all mining, and the [recent] strike gave this movement new momentum". 

Thiess, Operating in Indonesia, Uses Police to Bludgeon Striking Coal Miners

ICEM in brief alert

1 April 2012

Indonesia's largest coal producer, PT Kaltim Prima Coal (KPC), through its mine services contractor Thiess Pty. Ltd. of Australia, has brutally attacked members of two ICEM-affiliated mine unions through police and military force.

The dispute dates to the fourth quarter of 2011 when miners working for KPC, part of Indonesia's Bumi Resources, first took strike action when it became obvious that neither Thiess nor KPC intended to grant a renewal collective agreement.

But the dispute at KPC's Sangatta mine in Kalimantan province on the island of Borneo turned violent on 24 March when 400 striking workers gathered at the coal company's office in East Kutai district on the counsel of a local citizens group to offer themselves back to work following a second strike dating to last November.

They were immediately attacked by a regional military brigade serving the interests of Thiess and KPC. Twenty miners were severely beaten and hospitalised. Another 12 were immediately detained and throughout the night of 24 March and into the next day, police and military rounded up another four union leaders and jailed them.

By this weekend, most of the unionists had been released but police and regional military are still holding two union leaders, the Vice President of the local branch of ICEM affiliate Chemical, Energy, Mines, Oil & Gas Workers' Union of FSP-KEP, Sumardi, and the Secretary, Maxi.

The leader of FSP-KEP, D. Patombong Sjaiful, called the situation now "critical" and pleaded that global trade union attention is given this grievous repression by brute force. In the second time in a fortnight, Jakarta-based FSP-KEP today dispatched a mission to east Kalimantan province, this time to win the freedom of the two remaining unionists.

The other ICEM-affiliated organisation with membership at KPC is the regional mining and energy union FPE, part of the Indonesian confederation SBSI. Some 2,200 miners work at KPC's two open-cast thermal coal mines of Sangatta. FSP-KEP has some 1,400 members, while FPE has 200. KPC also consists of five smaller mines at the nearby Bengalon mine.

The dispute began following the expiration of a two-year agreement on 5 October 2011. Thiess Indonesia management foretold its strategy to eliminate the collective agreement by telling the unions a new agreement would not be valid until after negotiations were complete. And then the stalling began.

The mineworkers' only choice was to strike and the first work stoppage occurred from 10 November to 27 December, from which six union leaders were sacked. When the two sides finally did return to bargaining on 28 January 2012, union leaders were summoned to police offices in East Kutai district where they were surprised to see that the police commander representing the company in talks.

Two days earlier, KPC sent a letter that the status of the six union leaders would not be on the agenda. Miners began a work slowdown resulting in 264 workers getting the sack that, in turn, caused a second strike.

When Sjaiful and other FSP-KEP leaders visited in mid-March, an agreement was sorted out between the police, a local parliamentarian, and the citizens' group calling for the strike to cease, recall of the dismissed workers, and a return to negotiations.

But Thiess and KPC rejected that. When strikers came to the company's offices then on 24 March, they were met by police and the mobile brigade wielding batons and other instruments of force.

The ICEM condemns Thiess, part of Australian Leighton Holdings Ltd. (LEI), whose ultimate parent is the German global construction giant Hochtief AG, for utilising police and military intervention to avert legitimate collective negotiations. It also holds Bumi Resources accountable for this contemptible display of anti-social conduct in its home country.

Unrest in Indonesia's Mines: Local Chaos and Global Injustice

By Michelle Chen

Huffington Post

9 April 2012

Buried in Indonesia's rich soil is a minefield of brutality, literally. Last year, the Grasberg mine of the Freeport McMoran Copper & Gold, one of the largest such operations in the world, shut down after thousands of workers launched a strike to demand higher wages. Work recently resumed, but the suffering continues while officials and multinationals maneuver to manage Southeast Asia's resource curse.

In the midst of the massive strike, the company cited "sabotage and security concerns" and the blockade of a critical pipeline, and there were reports of internal conflicts among employees. But the worst impact of the chaos fell on the workers who were mysteriously gunned down. The exact source of the attacks is unclear, but they could be tied into a long-running struggle for control over local mineral assets between the police and military.

Mine workers weren't the only ones being targeted. While strikers and police clashed in October, leading to the deaths of two unionists, indigenous activists in Jayapura, West Papua, were reportedly struck with batons and bullets at a pro-independence rally.

The unrest surrounding Grasberg exposed both the vulnerability of organized labor and the brute power of the industry. From its Phoenix headquarters, Freeport's global empire stretches across various political hotspots: Indonesia, Peru, and Democratic Republic of Congo.

To safeguard its Indonesian assets, according to John McBeth at Asia Times, the company has erected its own massive security complex:

"The police assumed responsibility for internal security at the Freeport mine, a controversial arrangement under which the company last year paid the paramilitary Police Mobil Brigade $14 million in security-related allowances, food and other in-kind necessities. ... The company also spent $28 million last year on its own unarmed security force, up from $22 million in 2009."

A few weeks ago, Grasberg went back to work following wage concessions to the workers. But the trauma continues to resonate; after an estimated 15 shooting deaths and dozens of others wounded since mid-2009, the culprit remains buried in Indonesia's political quagmire.

In the wake of the strike, the Indonesian government has moved to limit foreign investment in mines to 49 percent. Yet, though the measure may smack of "resource nationalism" -- an idea that's been floated in some mineral-rich "developing" nations such as Venezuela -- it won't necesarily bring any economic justice for workers.

Regardless of foreign investment, Indonesia's government isn't about to relinquish its brutal grip on civil society, nor will the resistance die down. Dick Blin of the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) told In These Times that the Freeport uprising, together with the local ethnic conflicts, reflected cycles of conflict in the region.

"There always has been an indigenous movement here to stop all mining, and the strike gave this movement new momentum. Clear and simple, the union won this strike because all the stars lined up correctly to allow it to do so."

Though this labor dispute may be resolved for now, in the long run, structural inequalities and violence will remain embedded in mining. From tragic and sadly preventable disaster at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in Virginia to epidemic fatalities in Chinese coal mines, this is a global pattern. Workers' bodies are as cheap as the resources are precious, and adequate safety regulations or living wages don't fit the cost-benefit analysis.

The prioritization of minerals over people can also happen in Global South countries that assert populist nationalism through control over their mining sectors. Rising tensions in South American indigenous communities over the rush for lithium mining show that the basic capitalist impulse to exploit prevails, with or without foreign help.

Back in Indonesia, another recent labor conflict highlights the structure of corporate-state oppression. Government forces reportedly cracked down on labor activists following a standoff involving a major coal producer, KPC, and its Australian partner Thiess. "When strikers came to the company's offices then on 24 March," ICEM reported, "they were met by police and the mobile brigade wielding batons and other instruments of force." Brutal beatings and detentions of unionists followed.

Though violence against mine workers seems to come from all directions, the terrors that fill the world's mines are all driven by the same business model: a partnership between the industry that plunders local communities, and the regime that keeps people from fighting back.

Cameron's Asian tour

Letter to The Editor

Daily Telegraph

13 April 2012

Sir - It was with sadness that I learnt of David Cameron's visit to Indonesia this week to renew arms sales. I still bear scars and a permanent walking impairment as a result of an Indonesian bombing raid on my village using British-supplied Hawk jets.

Two years ago, Mr Cameron publicly acknowledged the "terrible situation" in my homeland of West Papua. When he became Prime Minister, thousands across West Papua took to the streets to celebrate his appointment, with great hope. Today, my people will have tears in their eyes.

Human rights groups estimate that more than 400,000 of my people have been killed by the Indonesian military. Hundreds more languish in jail as political prisoners. There is no democracy in West Papua.

Benny Wenda

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