Police Back Down At Freeport Picket Line


The Indonesian Police cancelled a plan to forcibly break up a blockade at Freeport’s Grasberg mine on 1 November after striking workers brought their wives and children to the strike site.

The decision was made by the Vice Commander of Mimika, Mada Laksanta, and announced in front of hundreds of striking workers and their families at the picket line at Mile 28. The police have now given workers until 9 November to resolve the dispute. "We have taken a persuasive approach on this problem, and we hope the workers can find a solution before the due date" Laksanta told Kompas Daily.

However, his words contradict the reality on the ground. For over a week the police have been building up their presence around the mine site. Last week New Matilda received information that "four Panzers (army tanks), one backhoe and one bulldozer are on the way to mile 27 of Freeport area in Mimika". Now, NM has been told by an official from the All Indonesia Workers Union (SPSI) that "Eight police trucks are on standby at (Mimika) airport to end the strike at Mile 28".

NM has been told by union officials that the reason police refrained from taking action on 1 November is because the striking workers’ families were with them on the picket line.

The Indonesian police are currently under scrutiny for receiving payments from Freeport to secure the mine 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. Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) have said these payments are illegal: "The funds can be seen as a bribe because they were given without any legal grounds," ICW researcher Firdaus Ilyas told the Jakarta Post.

For the SPSI Freeport division, the next few days are critical: not only is it fighting against Freeport management, it is also fighting for its survival. The union is struggling with its finances after using much of its budget to run the workers’ campaign.

A letter appealing for funds was recently sent to supporters: "Since September 2011 we and our members have not been on Freeport Indonesia’s payroll anymore", it reads. "Yet, we need to have a continuous flow of funding to sustain our struggle."

With knowledge of the union’s dire financial situation, Freeport management has attempted to divide the workers.

SPSI allege that Freeport management approached the family of Leo Wandagau — a 34-year-old striking worker who died in a hospital a week after being shot by police — to tell the workers to end the strike. In an email sent to New Matilda by an SPSI official, Wandagau’s family told the workers to "stop blocking the road and clear the site". A Freeport worker, Gebi Tanelek, told New Matilda, "The management has opportunistically used the time to divide us".

To end the standoff, the SPSI recently met with various unions including the CFMEU and the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM) in Jakarta. In a media statement, ICEM’s Dick Blin explained, "We’re here to diffuse a labour dispute that is literally a powder keg".

Despite their financial difficulties, the SPSI has vowed to "fight the struggle until the end". The mine workers want a pay rise to between US$7.50 and US$33 per hour.

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