Half of the 46 trade unionists were women. Delegates from ten countries spent two days together, 17-18 September, learning from each other and developing a common platform for action.
One participating union was not from the Asia-Pacific region: Pappers from Sweden co-chairs the global sector with USW, and the Swedes have an important heritage of supporting South East Asian paper unions. Four Pappers leaders joined the Jakarta meeting and ran a session sharing their experience of building union strength in the sector, at home and abroad.
Pappers vice president Mikael Lilja was asked many questions by the meeting. “Our experience is that it takes a long time to build a strong union. Be patient, you have thousands of members, and you will organize thousands more. Step by step, and with constant dialogue.”
The region is a priority for the global sector and Indonesia is a key country. Five IndustriALL affiliates from Indonesia participated in the meeting, representing over 70,000 members in the pulp and paper industry. In Indonesia there are 2.7 million union members of a total workforce of 70 million. The chair of IndustriALL’s Indonesia National Council, Iwan Kusmawan, also welcomed the network to Jakarta.
The pulp and paper industry is major part of the Indonesian economy. Indonesia is the sixth largest paper producing country and tenth largest pulp producer in the world. The two largest employers in the sector in Indonesia are APP and April. Indonesian affiliates struggle against repeated labour law violations at many companies in the sector, and growing use of precarious, contract labour.
Chair of the regional network, Alex Millar of the CFMEU, Australia steered the meeting. Alex celebrated the strong women of the network and said:
“Once again we see that wherever paper workers are we face the same challenges, precarious work, unsafe workplaces and attacks on trade union freedoms. Strong unions and solidarity are the only way in which we can confront these challenges.
CFMEU’s Denise Campbell-Burns reported to the network on the Australian union movement’s inspiring campaign to “Change the Rules” which targets a change of government.
Paper worker leaders from Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam also shared their struggles and successes, and strategized on ways to build the network.
Kimberly-Clark workers were represented from Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Australia. The full network stood in solidarity with the global call on the company to treat its workers with respect and start proper dialogue on the restructuring plan.
The network discussed how to formalize its solidarity machine to support brothers and sisters in conflict. The current urgent case that the network will support is FSP2KI fighting for reinstatement of 12 strikers at contractor companies servicing the large PT. Tanjungenim Lestari Pulp and Paper operations in South Sumatra. The union’s 13-15 June strike was supported by IndustriALL and key affiliates, ending with a good agreement that included a company commitment not to punish any worker for taking part in the strike.
The meeting concluded with an action plan and commitment from all unions to strengthen the network.
IndustriALL industry director Tom Grinter said:
“This network is full of energy and determination to build power for paper workers in the region. These leaders inspire the full sector with their struggle in challenging conditions.”