Striking Back at Nike: Just Do It!

Revolutionary Worker #908, May 25, 1997

JAKARTA, INDONESIA: The PT Hardaya Aneka Shoe Industry makes shoes for Nike by exploiting thousands of workers in Jakarta, Indonesia. On Tuesday, April 22, 10,000 workers at one of their factories went on strike and marched six miles from a plant in Tangerang on the western outskirts of Jakarta to the district parliament to demand higher wages.

The strike continued the rest of the week and on Friday, about 4,000 workers went into the streets to protest. According to news reports, they burned two cars, one of them belonging to a government labor official, and smashed windows, doors and furniture at the factory. A security guard was beaten when he tried to stop the workers from ransacking the factory and several cops had to be treated for injuries.

The Indonesian Times reported that another 10,000 workers from nearby garment, shoe and bag manufacturers also went on strike on April 22. These workers demanded an increase in the minimum wage, every Sunday off with pay, and sick leave as well as increases in transport and overtime allowances.

The workers from the PT Hardaya Aneka factory demanded they be paid the new government minimum wage that was supposed to go into effect on April 1. According to the new minimum wage laws, the workers' wages should have been raised from $2.26 a day to $2.46 a day. But the Indonesian government allows garment and shoe manufacturers with large work forces to ask for permission to delay paying the new minimum wage if a public audit proves they are incapable of doing so. And the Nike factory had asked the government for permission not to pay the new minimum wage on the grounds that the wage increase would be a "financial hardship."

Nike's chairman and top CEO, Philip Knight, is worth over $5 billion dollars. And Nike made $673 million in profits last year. But they say they can't afford to pay the workers who make their shoes in Indonesia an extra 20 cents a day!

By the weekend, the workers still refused to go back to work and the plant was closed down. Then, after a two-hour meeting at the parliament between workers, legislators, company executives, union leaders and manpower department officials, PT Hardaya Aneka agreed to pay the minimum wage. But according to the Jakarta Post, the company's personnel manager stated that they had been given permission by the manpower ministry to continue to delay paying the 1997 minimum wage because of its financial situation. And Nike stated that it would not pay more to contract with the factory as a result of any increased wages.

In Indonesia, many Nike sweatshops have been set up in the fast-growing urban area known as Jabotabek--which refers to the cities of Jakarta, Bogor, Tangerang and Bekasi. People have come from throughout Indonesia to this area to look for work and the population of Jabotabek has grown from 17 million five years ago to more than 20 million today. There are estimates that by the year 2010, there will be 30 million people living in this area. And the city of Tangerang itself has grown by one-third over the last five years to more than 1.2 million, and is projected to reach 5.8 million over the next decade. Jabotabek is now home to one-fourth of the urban population of Indonesia--a country of 190 million people. According to a 1991 survey by the International Labor Organization, 88 percent of the women working in Jakarta--where the minimum wage is slightly less than a dollar a day--were malnourished.

In the Pou Chen Complex, known to workers as Nikomas, more than 9,000 women work making Nike shoes. Workers here have been fired for protesting the pay and work conditions and like many other Indonesian factories, military men are posted in the front offices. After an upsurge of protests and rebellions hit the country in July 1996, the government moved even more aggressively to stifle any political opposition--including anyone trying to organize labor groups and strikes for better pay and working conditions.

HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM: The same week Nike workers went on strike in Indonesia, thousands of Nike workers also went on strike in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. On Friday, April 26, about 3,000 workers who produce Nike shoes for a South Korean company, staged a one-day strike to protest wages and working conditions.

The SamYang Vina Company is one of five companies producing shoes for Nike in Vietnam. On April 25, the company threatened to fire workers from the gluing, sole, and finishing plants unless they agreed to the company's terms. Workers were brought to the factory office and told to sign either the management's contract or a letter of resignation. A few workers signed the contract, but about 1,300 refused to submit to this threat and went on strike instead. Samyang managers then locked employees into different parts of the factory, in an attempt to get the workers to sign the contract.

The workers demanded that Samyang raise salaries to $50 a month. They now get about $40 a month and the company doesn't provide them with any clear provisions concerning vacations, bonuses for the new year and extra pay for work in potentially hazardous parts of the plant.

This is not the first time Nike factories in Vietnam have been hit with strikes. In March, 250 employees staged a brief strike over working conditions at Samyang. And earlier this year workers in two other Nike facilities in Cu Chi also went on strike over overtime pay, arbitrary firing of workers and firings without the presence of union representatives.

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