Nike Worker Tour: Day One (5/2/97) Vancouver, British Columbia
Cicih Sukaesih began the first leg of a Canadian/U.S. speaking tour. The Canadian portion of the tour is being generously funded by a major grant from the Social Justice Fund of the Canadian Auto Workers, with additional funding from the Alberta Federation of Labor.
During the first portion of the tour, participants are: former Nike worker Cicih Sukaesih from Indonesia; translator Saraswati Sunindyo, formerly of Indonesia and now on faculty at the University of Washington in Seattle; and Trim Bissell, coordinator of Campaign for Labor Rights. The tour has been organized by Campaign for Labor Rights and Press for Change. Jeff Ballinger, director of Press for Change, will join the tour in Alberta.
Cicih Sukaesih, 32, worked at the factory of Nike contractor PT Sung Hwa Dunia (later to beome PT Eltri Indo Footwear) in Serang, West Java, Indonesia from 1989 to January, 1993. In September of 1992, almost all of the 6,500 workers went on strike over issues of wages, benefits and working conditions. The normal work day was 7:30 am to 6 pm, with a one-hour break for lunch. The normal work week was 6 days, Monday through Saturday. Workers also sometimes had to work Sundays. Approximately three times a week, workers were forced to work as late as 9 pm. Although nominally voluntary, overtime was in fact forced. A worker who refused overtime would receive warnings. After the third warning, a worker was subject to firing. Additionally, the workers were financially coerced into putting in overtime hours. During the time Cicih worked at the factory, pay was about $2.10 a day in U.S. dollars. The overtime rate was double that. Only through working many hours of overtime could workers hope to cover their basic expenses.
Workers labored under a high-pressure quota system. Also, conditions were exremely oppressive inside the factory. Workers were jammed together, their body heat and the heat of the machines making the already overheated factory almost unbearable. Even so, workers were rationed only a limited amount of water to drink during the day. Workers had to receive a permission slip to use the bathroom. If a worker was deemed to have outstayed the time stipulated on the slip, guards would come to yell at her. Workers not feeling well were granted no exceptions.
Should an accident occur, there was one doctor (present only two hours a day) for 6,500 workers. A worker too ill to come to work had to come in to get a permission slip from the company doctor. If she could not do so -- even if she brought a note from her own doctor -- upon her return, she would be forced to stand in a conspicuous place in view of all her co-workers for up to two hours, after a manager announced to the factory: "This is an example of a lazy worker."
The factory workforce, typical of sweatshops, was largely female and young. A worker of 28 was considered past her prime and could expect to be discarded as no longer useful (meaning: old enough to understand that she might stand up for her rights). Female workers suffered sexual harassment in the form of unwanted touching of their bodies. Workers also were searched (manually, by guards touching their bodies) on leaving work each day, to verify that they were not stealing shoe components.
Independent unions are forbidden in Indonesia. Independent union leader Dita Sari recently received a 6-year prison sentence for her union activities, which would be considered perfectly normal union organizing in a country with a legitimate government. Independent union leader Muchtar Pakpahan is currently awaiting trial and faces a possible death sentence -- again, for normal union organizing activities. Pakpahan is the subject of an international solidarity campaign. In Canada, the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) currently are in the midst of a massive campaign to gather postcard signatures in support of Pakpahan. The Nike worker tour is helping the CAW to culminate that effort.
The official government union in Indonesia is headed by retired military officers, for whom union positions are a perquisite of rank. Union dues are deducted from paychecks. In return for those dues, the government union tries to quash any actions by the workers to have their grievances addressed. Under these conditions, wildcat strikes frequently occur in Nike factories and other factories in Indonesia, when the level of frustration reaches the boiling point. Typically, such actions are brief, massive walkouts -- often successful with regard to specific grievances. Also typically, after the workers negotiate an agreement with management and after they return to work, management and/or the police or military interrogate workers suspected of leading the walkout. Leaders then are fired. such was the case with Cicih and 23 of her co-workers.
In January of 1993, Cicih and 23 others were fired by the Nike contractor. They sought help from a nongovernmental organization which provides assistance in labor cases. In the intervening years, their case has worked its way through levels of Indonesian courts and review boards. The most recent court to review the case ruled against the company in November of 1995 and ordered that the workers be reinstated, with back pay. This is a remarkable decision, given the repressive nature of Indonesian government.
Nike headquarters in Beaverton, OR has refused to act on behalf of these workers. Nike takes the "neutral" position that it will leave the case up to the Indonesian Supreme Court. Nike's neutrality means that Cicih's may never live to see her case decided, since the Supreme Court last year ruled on only 24 cases out of a backlog of some 2,000!!!
Since losing her position with the Nike contractor, Cicih probably has been blacklisted. In any case, at her age, she has no prospect of finding further employment in a global sweatshop system which spits out women at age 28 as no longer of use. Cicih has been living with a sister and relies on support from her family.
This is Cicih's second speaking tour in North America. Last year, she made a number of appearances in the United States during a tour organized and funded by Global Exchange. The primary emphasis on that tour was on reaching as much of the public as possible, through direct appearances and via media coverage. That goal also is part of this year's tour. However, the central focus of this year's tour is to promote ongoing alliances with unions and community-based groups. Throughout this tour, Campaign for Labor Rights will be holding discussions with union leaders, to see what can be done to forge a massive network of unions (locals and higher structures) who can provide active, ongoing participation in the Nike campaign and other international and domestic labor struggles.
The first stop of the tour was Vancouver, British Columbia. The day was spent in consultation with Vancouver area officials of the Canadian Auto Workers and in press interviews and a press conference. In the evening, Cich met with local activists at the La Quena coffee house. The activists, members of the JUSTice DO IT NIKE coalition, have organized four previous demonstrations at a local store selling Nike products.
Next report: On Saturday, May 3, there will be labor-organized demonstrations all across Canada to protest cutbacks in social programs (being done in the name of deficit reduction). Watch for further alerts on the Nike work tour.
Nike Worker Tour: Day Two (5/3/97)
[See the Day One alert for background information on the case of Cicih Sukaesih, the Nike worker from Indonesia who is on a speaking tour in Canada and the U.S.]
Today was a national day of protests organized by Canadian unions. The demonstrations were called to protest cutbacks in social programs (cuts done in the name of deficit reduction) and the loss of union jobs through privatization of government services (for example, the bulk mail portion of the Canadian postal system has been privatized).
In Canada, as in the United States, the NAFTA and GATT trade agreements have resulted in wholesale exporting of production jobs. The loss of jobs has resulted in an official unemployment rate of 10%. However, Roger Crowther (our Canadian Auto Worker host in Vancouver) reports that true unemployment probably runs closer to 20%. The loss of jobs, in turn, has reduced the tax base for social programs. Now the Canadian corporate powers (whose outsourcing of production has contributed to the deficit) want to cut services to the poor and others in need. As Bob White, president of the Canadian Labor Congress, said in a speech in Vancouver today: "It's time to stop financing debt reduction on the backs of the poor and to do it on the backs of the rich."
Another trade agreement likely to have disastrous consequences for Canadian workers is the document being promoted by the Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC), an alliance of economic powers including Canada, the United States and a number of Asian countries. Roger Crowther of the CAW noted that the Canadian government made a mistake when they were trying to get NAFTA passed in that they made the text of the agreement public so that people knew what they were organizing against. They are not repeating that error with APEC and have released little information about exactly what the pending APEC trade agreement will mean.
The next APEC meeting will be in Vancouver, in November. Participants will include Prime Minister Cretien, President Clinton, and government heads from Japan, China and Indonesia. Indonesian president Suharto's bloody invasion and occupation of East Timor and his repression of unions throughout Indonesia have not proven to be a barrier to membership in APEC.
The Canadian Labor Congress will host a counter event during the November APEC meeting: the People's Forum, which promises to draw many alternative voices from the APEC countries. This is the third annual People's Forum held in parallel with APEC meetings. Last year's forum was in the Manila.
Within the Canadian progressive movement, there is disagreement about how to respond to APEC. Many argue for attaching social clauses to the trade agreement -- as was done with NAFTA, but this time to make sure that the social clauses have teeth. Roger Crowther of the Canadian Auto Workers: "It's not enough to talk about attaching social closes to APEC. We should be saying no to APEC."
The Canadian Auto Workers is a union with a well-earned reputation for militancy. At one of the auto parts factories it represents, workers recently succeeded in having the first job-ownership provision ever seen in Canada inserted into their contract. That is, management is now legally obligated to replace any outsourced job with another position of comparable pay.
CAW's reputation for fighting for its members has allowed the British Columbia section to grow rapidly during a period of shrinking auto production jobs. The CAW in British Columbia represents diverse constituencies: rail workers, mine workers, smelter workers, fishing industry workers, airline workers, delivery truck drivers and service sector employees. It is in CAW local 3000, representing service sector employees, that the CAW in British Columbia has seen its most dramatic increase in membership.
[Most of what follows regarding CAW's organizing work in the service sector is based on an article in the March/April, 1997 issue of Our Times magazine.]
Local 3000 currently represent more than 3,600 workers located throughout British Columbia, with membership growing on an almost daily basis. Members are 70% women and about 40% visible minorities.
There are 54 bargaining units. Some bargaining units apply to multiple worksites, such as the 18 White Spot restaurants. Local 3000 represents more than 50 Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets, also under one contract. There about about 900 workers in building-maintenance jaitorial jobs at many scattered worksites. The union has office workers, bank and credit union employees. It has bargaining units in food co-ops and hotels. All of this has led to the local's doubling in size in the last decade. There's never a week that goes by without an application for certification coming in.
Especially in fast food outlets, much of the workforce is young. Denise Kellahan, president of local 3000: "I'll get parents phoning me up to say that they youngster has a problem on the job. I'm always very polite to them, but I say: "I really want to talk to your child, because if they're old enough to earn a paycheque, they're old enough to understand and learn about their rights.' I don't encourage parent to get involved at all. If young people can earn a living and they cna pay union dues, they have a say in their working conditions.
"In fact, in our last set of negotiations with KFC, we had a 17-year-old member sitting on the bargaining committee. I thought it was pretty fabulous to see him really take on the issues. We had a very tough set of negotiations and ended up with an 88% strike vote.
"He traveled with us all around the province, because we had to hold meetings in absolutely every town where there's a KFC. It took close to three weeks to complete. We held two meetings a day, because you're dealing with people working shift work. To see somebody that age be able to speak very articulately on the issues, and to play an active role at the bargaining table -- I thought it was just a wonderful foundation for him and his future workplace."
The hottest action for Canadian Auto Workers local 3000 at this time is with the eight Starbucks coffee shops it represents. Workers were receiving $7.50 an hour (Canadian). But then, when the legal minimun wage in British Columbia was raised to $7.00, Starbucks headquarters (in Seattle) figured, "Hey, we can live with that" and dropped the pay of their Canadian employees by 50 cents.
Roger Crowther of the CAW points to the phenomenal growth rate which Starbucks has boasted in recent years and notes that the proliferation of Starbucks outlets throughout Canada and the U.S. is being financed by workers and by consumers (who pay exhorbitant prices for their brew).
Starbucks imports some of its coffee from East Timor, the island nation invaded by the Indonesia army. More than 200,000 East Timorese out of a population of 600,000 have been slaughtered by Indonesian dictator Suharto's army during the bloody occupation. One of the prizes of the occupation of East Timor was the seizure of its renowned coffee plantations. Some of Suharto's relatives now own a hefty portion of that coffee-producing land. But don't expect to see any reference to East Timor at your local Starbucks. The coffee from East Timor is labeled "Indonesian." Starbucks is abetting a human rights disaster in East Timor, even as two men from that nation received the Nobel Peace Prize for their human rights advocacy for their country.
Starbucks also is the focus of a labor rights campaign initiated by the U.S./Guatemala Labor Education Project. Two years ago, after a successful campaign organized by US/GLEP, Starbuck agreed to to write and implement a code of conduct for the coffee producers from which it buys. Starbuck eventually wrote the code but has done nothing to implement it. This March, a day before the Starbucks annual stockholders meeting, US/GLEP announced that it was restartiing the campaign, to pressure Starbucks into committing itself to concrete steps toward implementation. The original commitment two years ago was that Starbucks would implement the code first in Guatemala. After a period of working out its methods there, Starbucks was to have applied the code to every country where it buys coffee beans. US/GLEP intends to hold Starbucks to that original plan.
The Canadian Auto Workers in British Columbia have kept in touch with US/GLEP and are eager to cooperate where their interests overlap. The British Columbia Trade Union Group has a longstanding program of solidarity with Guatemalan unions.
Saturday was a busy day for Cicih Sukaesih. The tour group took part in a march through downtown Vancouver, with stops for speeches at several points with symbolic significance. At the culmination of the march and at the largest rally, Cicih addressed the demonstrators. It was the largest crowd she ever had spoken too: estimated at 800 participants. Cicih especially wanted to thank progressive unions (the Canadian Auto Workers and the Alberta Federation of Labor) for their financial support of her tour. She said that it was very moving to her to be able to speak to workers who could freely organize an independent union -- a right denied to her in Indonesia. During the march and rallies, Cicih could hardly believe it when her translator and fellow countryperson, Saraswati Sunindyo, explained that the Canadian government had not organized the day's events and that the unions freely marching in the streets were not state-controlled.
Back at the CAW union hall, a large portion of the crowd again gathered, for celebration and more speeches. As a special guest of honor, Cicih again spoke, right after Bob White, president of the Canadian Labor Congress, who had flown in from Ottawa for marches in Victoria and Vancouver.
Between the march and the gathering at the union hall was a demonstration organized by the local JUSTice DO IT NIKE coalition, its 5th leafleting event at that store in less than a year. Up to 50 people picketed in front of the store and passed out leaflets. A number of passersby stopped to ask about the Nike campaign or to hear Cicih tell the gathering about conditions in the Nike factory where she worked (see the report for Day One of the tour). Although some were skeptical as they began to inquire about our presence at the store, almost all who took the time to listen were visibly shaken upon learning what Nike workers endure.
Among the many media interviews today, one was with Naomi Klein, a reporter from the Toronto Star who flew out to Vancouver especially to interview Cicih in advance of our arrival in Toronto. The Canadian media have taken a strong interest in Cicih, who was nearly invisible to the crowd during her speech at the large rally -- because virtually every television camera and newspaper photographer closed in to capture her presentation.