International Labor Solidarity Puts Pressure on Indonesia
In contrast to organized labor's division over what should be done about the Kosovo crisis, the current mayhem and mass killing in East Timor has galvanized a powerful and unified response from unions internationally. Organized labor, and most especially unions in Australia, Canada, and Europe have not only fired off press statements, but they have also been urging their members to join with other groups in protest. Additionally, where possible, they have urged unions to take political, financial and even industrial action to pressure their own governments and the Indonesian government to stop the killing and recognize the results of the August 30th referendum which voted overwhelmingly for independence of East Timor. Even the historically cautious and somewhat conservative international labor central, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) has sprung into action, condemning the Indonesian government and military and calling on their members 213 member organizations in 143 countries to take action.
It's unfortunate and a long forgotten tragedy that the labor movement had not rallied support to the people of East Timorese 24 years ago when Indonesia first invaded and occupied the territory waging a genocidal campaign against the indigenous population and crushing their human rights. But a Cold War-driven approach to international relations within the labor movement prevented most national labor federations and the ICFTU from taking effective action against Indonesian aggression. Today, however, as unions rally to the cause of peace, democracy and the rule of law for the people of East Timor, labor is taking important steps in forging a new, international solidarity, based on universal human and labor rights. And that's why it is so important for labor to join forces with its allies in the community on behalf of the rights of the people of East Timor. Universal rights, whether labor or human rights, need to be observed and movements need to be organized and mobilized to see that they are enforced. Without human rights there can be no labor rights.
The ICFTU, in a statement dated 10th September 1999, "invited its affiliated organisations thoughout the world to join a large mobilisation campaign aimed at isolating Indonesia politically and economically at the world level and ensuring the immediate despatch of an international force to East Timor in order to halt massacres and enforce the sovereign decisions' of the Timorese people and of the United Nations." Additionally, the ICFTU announced that it was preparing plans for a "large-scale, world-wide mobilization" for September 30th, one month to the day after the referendum in which the East Timorese chose independence.
In its most recent statement issued on September 13th, Bill Jordan, General Secretary of the ICFTU, asked trade unions to continue their pressure on "their national governments in order that they formally recognise East Timor independence." Jordon further urged, "the suspension or cut of all military aid and/or co-operation to Indonesia" and for unions "to keep the pressure on Indonesia."
This week alone, unions in Australia, Canada, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, San Marino, Portugal and Spain have all mounted protests or actions. In a press release dated September 13th, Jennie George, President of the Australian labor central, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and titled "union action to continue until peace restored in East Timor" outlined the "Campaign for Peace" which calls for "bans to be placed on all Indonesian government and commercial interests in Australia; the withdrawal of services (other than those considered essential) from Indonesian government and commercial interests; and a consumer boycott of Indonesian products and services." The ACTU has also called for the Australian government to "provide urgent humanitarian assistance to the East Timorese refugees," and for international financial agencies such as the World Bank, IMF to suspend assistance to Indonesia until peace is restored.
In a bold move, Ken Georgetti, the recently elected President of the Canadian Labour Congress, has issued a "hot cargo" ban on Indonesian goods, asking port, transportation and communication unions to investigate "what steps they can take to impede the flow of goods to and from Indonesia." Georgetti has called on union members to boycott consumer goods made in Indonesia with a list of products to be boycotted posted on the CLC website and he promises the ban will remain in place until:
- the Indonesian military brings the militias under control in East Timor, and withdraws troops responsible for the atrocities;
- Indonesia guarantees the safety and health of refugees who have fled or been deported to the camps of West Timor;
- Indonesia actively assists international peacekeepers, and helps humanitarian agencies provide food and other supplies to East and West Timor;
- Indonesia allows the UN to supervise the return of East Timorese forcibly deported.
In a shot at the Canadian government, Georgetti observed that "they seem to be far more concerned about good relations with Indonesia, than they have about stopping the slaughter of the East Timorese." Noting that Indonesia is Canada's largest investment destination in South East Asia with over 100 Canadian-based companies with investments valued at over $ 8 billion (CDN), Georgetti called on Canadian business to "announce a temporary halt to new investment, and aid for Indonesia" until there is "firm evidence that the killing and the terror have ended."
In a provocative show of solidarity, Canada's postal workers (Canadian Union of Postal Workers CUPW) was one of the first unions to respond to the "hot edict" and the call for solidarity refusing to deliver mail to the Indonesian Embassy in Ottawa.
The AFL-CIO has also condemned the slaughter in East Timor, in a press release issued September 13th. This tepid statement, however, is full of ambiguous language and contains no call for action by US unions. For example, the statement observes that "the Indonesian government must understand that the tragedy which has unfolded in East Timor will have real consequences on the country's economic recovery and on the willingness of the international community to continue to provide much-needed assistance." What is the AFL-CIO proposing we should do to help the Indonesian government come to this understanding? Expressing grave concern about the "deteriorating situation in East Timor" and condemning the Indonesian government for its failure to "maintain law and order and to protect the people of East Timor," the statement fails to identify the perpetrators the Indonesian military and their militias nor outline any specific action that the AFL-CIO would call on the US government, business, unions or even concerned citizens to engage in to stop this human tragedy.
With human rights, religious, student and community groups internationally joining in common cause to support the people of East Timor and to demand that their government take immediate and effective action to stop the killing and honor the results of the referendum on independence, US labor has a unique opportunity to be a powerful force within this coalition. But alas, the one statement that the AFL-CIO has issued to date fall far short of the energy, power and imagination that labor internationally is bringing to this worthy cause.
Start (for updates on international labor and East Timor)
ACTU (East Timor Campaign website) http://www.actu.asn.au/campaigns/timor/index.htm
AFL-CIO (Press Release on East Timor) http://www.aflcio.org/publ/press99/pr0913.htm
(East Timor statements)