Jumadi is creating a movement that is helping urban workers of diverse economic interests to solve problems that threaten their livelihood and well-being, particularly economic conflicts and unfair government policies.
The New Idea
Jumadi has created a structure, led by representatives of different groups of urban workers, designed to support those who have lost their livelihood and to influence government policies and practices. In Palu, Central Sulawesi, Jumadi has brought pedicab drivers, motorcycle drivers, market-wagon pushers, push-cart vendors, and women factory-workers into "SORAK" - Solidarity of the Common People. SORAK is run by a consortium that comprises one representative from each labor group, and members pay a nominal fee. An example of SORAK's policy-level work is its lobbying, organizing, and demonstrating against the 1997 regional order to ban pedicabs from central Palu. SORAK helps to resolve conflicts between groups of workers - such as the pedicab drivers and motorcycle drivers - who are competing for limited passengers, space, and other resources. Finally, SORAK is helping those workers who are sick or too old to find alternative sources of income, such as providing some capital so that wives can open a small food stall or creating a pedicab repair shop for retired pedicab drivers.
Unskilled urban workers have suffered in the face of the declining economy, the lack of a social safety net, and policies that damaged the potential for them to earn a livelihood. Due to a drop in investment and general economic stagnation since the economic crisis began in July 1997, massive numbers of workers in Indonesia have been laid off. Officially recorded unemployment had reached 17 million by mid 1998. Estimates of the number of the country's poor had doubled from 11 percent in 1996 to 24 percent in 1998. Data from the Central Statistics Bureau in 1999 showed forty-nine million of Indonesia's two hundred and ten million people living below the poverty line. Because Indonesia has no social safety net, those who become sick or disabled or the aged have no government benefits. Many survive only by begging or borrowing from other family members, who are themselves unlikely to have extra money. They do not go home to their villages because of the lack of land and resources available there, so they tend to stay on in the cities and struggle to provide for their families.More and more Indonesians who have been laid off from factories or other jobs in the formal sector have had to turn to work as pedicab drivers, street vendors, push-cart vendors, and other jobs in the informal, street-based marketplace. Worsening this desperate situation, government policies intended to promote progress and development were often implemented at the expense of poor workers. For instance, governments permitted expansion of urban marketplaces that demolished the spaces used by small street vendors. With so little of the economic pie left, conflicts break out. In Bandung, a riot between pedicab drivers and pushcart vendors broke out over limited space on a busy downtown street.
Jumadi has brought workers into occupation-based groups and has, through informal meetings and discussions, built a sense of common interest and belief in the importance of cooperation. While there may be natural competition for customers or space between the workers within the groups, he helps them to see the ways in which their individual interests will be better addressed by acting together. When there is a real and growing functional-occupation group, Jumadi solicits two to three individuals from the group to be "people organizers" based on: their ability to influence others; their ability to understand the problems and issues facing the group; their trustworthiness; and their sense of responsibility. These organizers, who are not paid, are responsible for twice-weekly meetings in which workers discuss threats to their livelihood. At the meetings they are trained in their rights as citizens and techniques for influencing government policies and practices. These sessions are conducted by Jumadi, by others in citizen based organizations, or by the workers themselves. Members of the groups pay a monthly fee (for example, in the case of pedicab drivers, five hundred Rp and pedicab owners, one thousand Rp) in order to finance the expenses of the group, such as writing materials, photocopying, tea for the meetings, and to provide funds for the small grants and loans.The functional-occupation groups are all part of the larger SORAK organization, which is led by a team that is made up of a representative from each of the groups. These representatives are being trained in organizational and advocacy techniques by apprenticing at local citizen-based organizations, such as the WALHI branch office (The Indonesian Forum on the Environment), the Free Land Organization, and the People's Education Organization. While they complete their unpaid apprenticeship, SORAK provides a small stipend so that their families can survive during the apprentice period. The goal of SORAK is to address the range of economically debilitating events that could affect the urban poor workers. For instance, SORAK has organized a pedicab repair shop for pedicab drivers who are too old to drive the pedicabs. SORAK also provides temporary, emergency economic support to the families of sick or injured workers. Financial assistance in the form of soft loans have been given to SORAK members so they can open small food stalls as income generating ventures to supplement their families' incomes, which may decrease with their greater participation in SORAK organizational activities. SORAK is also working to influence government policies that damage the economic interests of the workers. For instance, when the city government of Palu sought to ban pedicabs in the city, SORAK was able to pressure the government to form a special committee on the issue and call for input from many different people, including social leaders, academics, business people, pedicab customers, and the urban poor themselves. They succeeded in getting the ban postponed until 2001, and are providing input into the decision making process in the future as well. The local government also provides licenses to developers who want to expand marketplaces with no consideration for the pushcart vendors or small-scale traders who make use of the areas surrounding these markets. Such licenses have often been bought, with no regard for these most vulnerable merchants. SORAK has helped to give them a voice and bargaining power to lobby against such decisions and demand transparency from the local government. Jumadi helps the workers influence government policy through concerted demonstrations that involve all groups working together. They also do lobbying of government officials. Jumadi hopes that by increasing the political voice of these workers he will get the government to recognize that these workers are engaged in legitimate and respectable professionsSORAK also is helping resolve conflicts between groups of workers. When a potential conflict developed between pedicab drivers and motorcycle drivers near the central marketplace over space to park their respective vehicles, Jumadi organized a meeting with the two groups. Through discussion and problem solving activities they were able to work out and agree upon parking rules to be followed by all the members. These rules were shared with officials from the Traffic and Transportation Authority, thus making the regulations for parking areas a bottom up solution. To support SORAK and help to spread his idea, Jumadi has created a strong network among community organizations in Sulawesi. These organizations have provided space and resources for SORAK's work, such as donated computers, assured assistance to cover next year's office rental fee, and providing important training in organization and advocacy for SORAK's leadership. Jumadi has already begun to identify groups in eastern Sulawesi with whom he plans to work to spread his idea to other parts of Indonesia.
Jumadi comes from a small town in South Sulawesi. His father was a freedom fighter who was already quite elderly when Jumadi, the youngest in the family, was born in 1971. His mother encouraged him to become a teacher, which is why he chose the education faculty at Tadulako University in Palu. He became very involved in and a leader of several student organizations, including the Democratic Students' Organization. While still a student, he helped road workers whom he knew personally as his neighbors to organize and successfully persuade their company's management to provide insurance, covering hospital costs and workman's compensation when workers were injured. Later he used this experience to organize rattan factory workers and to hold meetings between them and the road workers to help them understand their similar issues and learn from experience how to fight their companies for benefits. In 1997 he started to work together with pedicab drivers and his idea for a group like SORAK began to develop. He has never received a salary for his work, because he wants to remain an example for the workers who are helping to run and organize SORAK and who also do not receive salaries. Jumadi has worked in several community-based organizations in Palu including the Legal Aid Society, the People's Education Organization, WALHI, and the Free Land Organization. This has been to gain support for SORAK and to provide a base and facilities for their use.