Unprecedented verdict frees Adidas shoe worker in Indonesia


By CHAD SULLIVAN and AGATHA SCHMAEDICK

Tangerang, Indonesia - Ngadinah Mawardi, a 29-year old worker and union leader who works in an Adidas shoe factory located one hour west of the capital of Jakarta, was acquitted of all charges against her Aug. 30 in an historic victory for workers' legal rights in Indonesia.

In her 18th appearance in court, the court admitted that no conclusive evidence had been brought forward.

"Based on existing evidence and testimonies given by witnesses before the court, the panel of judges could not find any strong evidence or reason to punish the defendant and therefore, based on just legal consideration, the defendant must be freed of all charges," said the main judge for the hearing.

Ngadinah already spent 29 days in jail last spring, and faced another seven years, for allegedly leading an 8,000-person strike at her factory last September. She was charged with "using violence or force or provoking others to use force" and "committing unpleasant acts" in the workplace. The latter charge dates back to Dutch colonial times and is used frequently today to criminalize workers.

Throughout the trial Ngadinah maintained that the strike was a spontaneous eruption of frustration at years of starvation wages, forced overtime, and other issues. "In the factory, each lane of 47 workers has a target of 620 shoes per day, about seven hours, 720 if we work overtime. The very minimum target for a day is usually 700. If we don't reach our target the management gets very angry with us. Angry to the point that sometimes they throw shoes at the workers," Ngadinah explained to the judge, "This is why the workers struck, not because I told them to." More than 150 of Ngadinah's fellow workers, mostly young women from various factories, attended the trial wearing black and red bandannas with the slogan, "Free Ngadinah! Labor Organizers are Not Criminals!"

Before the trial started, organizers from Ngadinah's union, Perpubas, (Indonesia Shoe Manufacturers Union) held a rally outside. Many were expecting a tough sentence. As the verdict was read, the audience erupted with applause, cheers, and raised fists. After the trial, the workers returned to their bus chanting and signing triumphantly.

Ngadinah's case is also a victory for international labor solidarity. Both the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and the AFL-CIO's American Center for International Labor Solidarity followed her case and were in attendance at her final trial.

USAS students have been sending photos and information about Ngadinah to the United States since July and helped organize a Web chat with Ngadinah on UNITE's Website, www.behindthelabel.org.

The verdict will hopefully prove to be the beginning of a new era of labor standards in Indonesia. It was only two years ago that Dita Sari, the famous student activist, was freed after spending three years in prison for organizing a peaceful strike.

In 1993 a worker named Marsinah, in a situation very similar to Ngadinah's, was brutally tortured, raped, and murdered for her role in a demonstration at a factory in East Java.

Last March a top labor organizer from a Nike factory was slashed in the head with a machete, barely escaping with his life.

Only two years ago, Ngadinah says she was "blind to issues of workers' rights." Now she has been transformed into a powerful activist who was unfazed by prison and successfully defended herself in court.

"Unions, students, and citizens who care about workers' rights in America, I hope you can unite your efforts and together we can struggle for workers' rights; in the U.S. and Indonesia and everywhere," she said.

(Editor's Note: Chad Sullivan and Agatha Schmaedick are recent graduates of the University of Oregon and are members of United Students Against Sweatshops. They have been researching labor conditions in Indonesia since June. The team has met with unions that organize in the apparel sector (the focus of USAS), conducted worker interviews, taken a crash course on Indonesian labor law, and fended off nasty stomach bugs. Their team is coordinated and funded by USAS's research arm, the Collegiate Apparel Research Initiative. Chad and Agatha will provide updates in special reports to the NW Labor Press. They can be contacted directly at: agchad@indo.net.id


September 7, 2001 issue

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