Indonesian government orders police to break Papuan mine strike
3 November 2011
Acting in close cooperation with the Obama administration in the United States, the Indonesian government of President Susilo Yudhoyono has declared its intention to break the two-month strike at the massive Freeport-McMoRan gold and copper mine in the province of Papua.
Police violence is being prepared to disperse the blockades that have effectively shut down the mine, underscoring the alarm that the militant strike by some of the lowest-paid mining workers in the world has caused in both Jakarta and Washington.
Indonesia’s newly appointed energy and mineral resources minister Jero Wacik met on Monday with the US ambassador to Indonesia, Scot Marciel, to discuss the Freeport dispute, which last week forced the Arizona-based company to declare a force majeure (default) on its copper contracts.
The Yudhoyono government announced that it was sending deputy mineral resources minister Widjajono Partwidagdo to Papua to get the mine operating again before dealing with the demands of the 8,000 strikers for higher pay. Indonesian police set a 48-hour deadline for workers to stop demonstrating or blocking access to mine facilities.
Deputy minister Widjajono said his first priority would be to restore order. “Essentially [Freeport-McMoRan wants] security to return to normal,” he told the Jakarta Globe. Only after the mine was up and running, he added, would the strikers’ demands be discussed.
According to workers, police armoured cars, heavy loaders and bulldozers have been sighted on their way to attack the strikers’ blockades. The local police commander, Deny Edward Siregar has issued an ultimatum, accusing the strikers of breaching criminal laws. “The strike has shifted its orientation, and become demonstrations without asking permissions from the police and has blocked access to roads that are vitally important for the national interest,” he stated.
Thousands of miners and their supporters began blockading the company’s operations last month, after para-military police opened fire on protesting workers in the nearby port of Timika, killing a striker and wounding a dozen more. The Yudhoyono regime has rejected calls for an independent investigation into the shootings.
Workers have been further incensed by the revelation that police have been receiving cash payments from Freeport-McMoRan, underscoring the intimate relations between the company, the government and the security forces.
National Police Chief General Timur Pradopo last Friday admitted that police units had been paid “pocket money” by the company. Human rights group Kontras had leaked a letter from Papua police saying that Freeport paid 1,250,000 rupiah ($US134) a month each to about 635 police and military personnel, adding up to $14 million annually.
At a press conference in Jakarta on Tuesday, a company spokesman defended the payments, declaring that they were legal under the “Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights,” an international agreement initiated by several large companies and governments, including the US and Britain.
This international protocol further demonstrates the extent to which governments and their police and military forces operate at the behest of the world’s largest mining companies, enforcing the exploitation of mine workers.
The Freeport miners are currently paid as little as $1.50 an hour, even though the mountainous Grasberg open-pit and underground complex is the world’s largest and most profitable gold and copper mine. Buoyed by soaring commodity prices, the company’s first half-year profit jumped to almost $3 billion, nearly double the figure for the first six months of 2010.
Talks between the company and the All-Indonesian Workers Union (SPSI) broke down last week, despite SPSI cutting its minimum wage claim to $7.80 an hour. This is far below the initial $17.50 claim, which was said to be aimed at bringing the Papuan miners more into line with the wages paid by Freeport in its North American operations, which were acquired from Phelps Dodge in 2007.