Police To Break Freeport Strike


The Indonesian police plan to break the Freeport strike tomorrow, according to a letter obtained by New Matilda.

The letter, which was sent to the head of Freeport division of the All Indonesia Workers Union (SPSI) by the police commander in Mimika, Deny Edward Siregar, orders the union to break the strike by 1 November or risk "firm action". It accuses the union of breaching several laws and regulations.

The letter states, "The strikers’ conduct is not in accordance with the strike regulations issued by the SPSI. Since October 10 the strikers have conducted anarchic acts that have breached laws".

It continues: "The strike has shifted its focus and become a demonstration, without requesting permits from the police, and has blocked access to roads that are of vital importance to the national interest".

The police preparation began last Saturday, when New Matilda received a text message from a union official saying "four Panzers (army tanks), one backhoe and one bulldozer are on the way to mile 27 of Freeport area in Mimika".

However, the police motivation to break the strike goes beyond what is outlined in the letter from the local commander. It is known that the police have received payments from Freeport to secure the area. The National Police Chief, General Timur Pradopo, recently admitted that the company had paid "lunch money" to local police, in addition to the state-allocated security funding.

In its report ‘Working Toward Sustainable Development’, Freeport Indonesia states that it allocated a budget of US$14 million in 2010 for the government to provide security at the Grasberg mine. This budget covers "various infrastructure and other costs, such as food, housing, fuel, travel, vehicle repairs, allowances to cover incidental and administrative costs, and community assistance programs". Further it says, "Where invited by the police, the Indonesian military may be deployed to provide additional security".

The police deployment to break the strike is a desperate action by Freeport and comes on the heels of a program to induce striking workers back to work by paying them off, as New Matilda reported last week. That program has not been successful.

An earlier tactic involved inducing striking workers to sign a letter rejecting the union’s actions. That letter, which has also been seen by New Matilda, was reportedly drafted by Freeport management. The union claims workers were forced to sign it.

That letter reads in part:

"We have not given a mandate nor support to SPSI Freeport Indonesia to fight for our welfare. Those of us who have provided support for the union to fight on our behalf withdraw our support … We are not responsible of any consequences as a result of any union officials activities who claim to work on our behalf."

It was apparently signed by a thousand striking workers and delivered by Freeport management to union officials on 25 October.

Pradopo’s admittance of the "lunch money" payments by Freeport to the police further explains the codependency of the two organisations in an area that is considered a vital national asset for Indonesia.

Since the strike began on 15 September a number of shooting incidents have occurred in the area. In response, the police deployed 260 more personnel from the police mobile brigade to Paniai central highlands and Puncak Jaya to join the existing 14,000 police and paramilitary troops in Papua.

The SPSI continues to negotiate with Freeport Indonesia for a pay rise to between US$7.50 and US$33 per hour.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.