Labor crackdown in a developing country, I can’t believe it?

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I visited Indonesia for industrial union education. The dominant form of trade union organization in Asian countries is corporate unions. The same goes for Indonesia. Only Malaysia is an exception. In the case of Malaysia, which was a British colony, it has historically been dominated by trade unions (of course, collective bargaining was carried out at the corporate level), but in the 1980s, the ‘Look East’ policy of looking at Japan and Korea was implemented, and corporate unions were introduced and are in competition with industry-specific unions.

Korea is the only country where the trade union movement, where corporate unions were the mainstream all over the world, has been converted into industrial unions. For this reason, the experience of the Korean trade union movement in industrial union education for overseas union interns is very important. Looking back on the experience of international labor education, I think that the Republic of Korea is the only country that can educate industrial unions to Asian union executives.

The trade union movement in Europe and the United States is dominated by industrial unions, but neither has ever experienced corporate unions. In particular, the United States is a representative example of a ‘patternal industrial union’ in which collective bargaining failed to break away from the corporate fence and failed to create industrial relations by industry. The only case of our country, which has the experience of transitioning from a corporate union system to an industrial union system, is very important to the Asian labor movement to seek a new career path.

The day after the industrial union training, I visited the headquarters of the Federation of Chemical Energy Mines and Trade Unions (CEMWU) in downtown Jakarta. CEMWU, which has 170,000 union members in more than 400 business sites, is one of Indonesia’s representative industrial federations.

CEMWU, which has been the most enthusiastic participation organization of industrial union education in Indonesia for many years, also sent an industrial union training group to Korea at the end of January. The training group, which consists of a total of 12 people, studied industrial union by looking for Hwaseom food union, metal union, and health and medical union.

Although the Metal Union is not an industrial union, the training group was able to learn about the role and function of the Industrial Federation as a stepping stone to the organizational transformation in discussions with the leadership of the Metal Union. This visit to the CEMWU headquarters was a place to discuss the follow-up project of the industrial union training team.

At a meeting with the CEMWU leadership and the training team, there was a story of a metal labor leader who was imprisoned while leading the struggle for irregular workers. CEMWU executives knew that Chairman Kim Man-jae had been imprisoned. Looking at the group photo taken during the metal union visit, I told me that “Brother Kim” in prison is not “Lee Kim (Chairman Kim Man-jae)”, but “I Kim (Secretary-General Kim Jun-young)”.

CEMWU executives were surprised that things didn’t happen in South Korea, even in Indonesia, a ‘so-called backward country.’ There is also a North Korean embassy in Jakarta, and North Koreans live there, and they joked that if they are unlucky, they could be driven as North Korean spies.

More than a decade has passed since I have been doing labor education in Indonesia. The enthusiasm for the education of union executives is hot. The slogan that is always heard at local union meetings or rallies is “Hidup Buruh” (Hidup Buruh).

In Korean, it means ‘labor liberation’. It takes the strong power of the union to realize ‘Hedubbur’, and there are no longer any educational participants who deny that one of the means is to convert corporate unions into industrial unions.

The problem is that due to budget constraints, industrial union education can only be conducted once or twice a year. I think it’s a real international solidarity to find a way to increase industrial union education opportunities for the Indonesian labor movement.

The CEMWU leadership and the industrial union Korea training team wrote a message with a magic pen on the battery to deliver it to the metal industry when they return home. And while taking a group photo, we shouted together in poor English. “Free Kim Jun Young!”