More on East Timor and the unions
Source Eric Lee
Date 99/09/17/15:19

International Labor Solidarity Actions Put Pressure On Indonesia

By Elaine Bernard

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

* 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.

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