The Alberta portion of the tour was funded by a grant from the Alberta Federation of Labor (AFL). Cicih was a featured guest at the AFL biennial convention in Edmonton. On Thursday, May 8 she addressed the convention. The speech was warmly received by the audience, which gave her two standing ovations.
Campaign for Labor Rights recently has learned of an important part of Cicih's story which has not previously been made public. After the strike was over (see report for day 1 to learn about the strike), Cicih was taken into the police station for two full days of interrogation about her labor activities. Before police began to question her, she waited outside a room where a suspected petty criminal was being tortured. She could plainly hear his screams and then saw the man being dragged away. Then she was led into the room and told to sit in the bloody chair where the victim had been tortured.
Her experience follows the pattern of recent years, a pattern which continues to this day. Previously, the Indonesian government physically tortured student activists and unionists. However, pressure from international human rights groups such as Amnesty International caused the authorities to modify their practices. Now they physically torture suspected common criminals, who are unlikely to receive international attention, in order to inflict psychological torture on higher profile figures.
Cicih's speech followed a difficult debate over whether to increase member union dues to the Alberta Federation of Labor. Unions in Alberta and across Canada are under seige by the corporate agenda. The Canadian postal system recently privatized its bulk mail component (a money maker), with a resultant loss of 10,000 unionized public sector jobs.
The day before Cicih's speech, Canadian Labor Congress president Bob White repeatedly mentioned Indonesia during his address to the convention. White previously was president of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW, primary sponsors of Cicih's tour). The CAW is part of a national coalition which has organized a massive postcard campaign in support of Muchtar Pakpahan. Pakpahan is a leader of the SBSI independent union. Independent unions are illegal in Indonesia. Pakpahan faces a possible death sentence. Also in prison, serving a recently imposed six-year sentence, is another independent labor leader, Dita Sari. Sari was a law student who gave up hopes of a law career to work on behalf of Indonesian workers, many of them in the shoe and apparel industry.
There was talk recently of Dita Sari being a recipient of the Reebok human rights award. The Reebok awards are an exercise in immense hypocrasy, since Reebok's labor practices tend to be indistinguishable from Nike's. In many instances, both companies use the same contractors. As Jeff Ballinger of Press for Change -- co-organizer of this tour -- noted, Reebok might want to save itself some embarrassment and run a good check on Sari before giving her its human rights award, since two of the strikes supported by her were by Reebok workers.
Shortly after Cicih's presentation to the convention, she received an invitation to be introduced to the provincial legistlature. Cicih was introduced by Pam Barrett, one of two NDP members of the legislature. Also on the program to be introduced that day, by the conservatives in power, was a group of German industrialists. The irony of the counterpoint of the industrialists vs. a fired Indonesian worker was not lost on Cicih.
While in Edmonton, Cicih met with Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 474. Last fall, a member of the CUPE 474 executive board was downloading Campaign for Labor Rights material on Nike from the Internet when a news story came on the local TV station saying that Nike had formed a partnership with the Edmonton city council and schools and the Oilers hockey team to fund a street hockey program for inner city youth. CUPE 474 is supportive of the program but questioned whether a company with Nike's labor practices would make an appropriate partner. Eugene Plawiuk (of CUPE 474) points out that Nike funds only sports programs in the schools -- and only those sports which the company views as strategic for marketing.
CUPE 474 pulled together a local labor-community coalition to oppose the partnership with Nike. One school already has refused the Nike equipment entirely and two others are in the process. Some months ago, CUPE 474 took a proposal to the Alberta Federation of Labor, which endorsed a boycott of Nike. Union members and community activists have gone into schools in many communities throughout the province to talk about Nike's labor practices. Interest in the campaign continues to spread.
Coming up: Cicih in Ontario.
[Background: Cicih Sukaesih is an Indonesian woman who was fired by a Nike contractor when she and 6,500 of her co-workers stood up for their rights. She currently is on a speaking tour in Canada and the U.S. The Canadian portion of the tour is being generously funded by a major grant from the Canadian Auto Workers Social Justice Fund, with additional funding from the Alberta Federation of Labor. The tour is organized by Campaign for Labor Rights and Press for Change. See earlier postings for days 1-7. Her experiences in a Nike factory and the story of her struggle are in the posting for day 1.]
REMINDER: There will be an international mobilization on Saturday,
October 18 in support of Nike production workers. Local community-based
organizations and union locals in the U.S. and Canada are invited to
organize leafleting events at stores selling Nike products. If that
particular date does not work for your organization or your community, feel
free to pick another day in the same time frame.
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