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Indonesian crackdown - in Illinois.

Just 40 miles from Decatur, Illinois, where A.E. Staley workers - members of the United Paperworkers International Union (UPIU) - lost a two-year battle with the company, a new labor fight has emerged in Charleston, Illinois.

In January, after workers rejected Trailmobile's offer for a new contract, Trailmobile locked out its employees while negotiations continued. "They said there was sabotage in the plant, but never showed that there was," says Gary Collins, president of UPIU Local 7591. "They said we had done a work slowdown, but we'd had a slowdown on parts coming in. It wasn't our fault."

The Charleston struggle is not the first attempt by Gemala Industries, which owns the trailer manufacturer, to crush labor in North America. Gemala Industries bought Trailmobile's Toronto, Ontario-based parent company in 1989. A year later, it closed an Ontario plant, laying off 334 members of the Canadian Auto Workers. In 1992, Trailmobile locked out 20 workers in Manitoba after they rejected wage and benefit cuts. That lockout lasted two years.

Closing all of its Canadian plants by 1993, the company announced plans to build a plant in Arkansas. After the announcement, Gemala North America vice president Sidney Kulek was quoted as saying, "The fact that the state has right-to-work laws was very important to us."

For the 1,020 locked-out workers in Charleston, this is the latest battle in the stepped-up war against labor. What they have only recently discovered, however, is that the company fighting them also finances a more literal bloodbath about 10,000 miles away.

Gemala Industries is a group of companies controlled by the Wanandi family of Indonesia. Gemala chairman Edward Ismanto Wanandi is the youngest brother of the family, which has strong ties to the Indonesian military. Company chair Sofjan Wanandi, once an adviser to top Indonesian generals, is today involved in "tourist development" in occupied East Timor, according to the UPIU. Jusaf Wanandi found the Indonesian military-intelligence institute which helped plan the invasion of East Timor, according to the UPIU, and helped garner foreign support and acquiescence for the occupation.

The Indonesian military has compiled a spectacularly bloody record since taking power in a 1965 coup. In the course of consolidating its grip on power, the military killed more than half a million Indonesians. In December 1975, Indonesia invaded East Timor, a small island-nation southeast of Indonesia and north of Australia. In the 20 years since, more than 200,000 residents of East Timor have died at the hands of the Indonesian government, one of the most repressive in the world.

Yet another Wanandi brother, Father Marcus Wanandi, denies many of the military's abuses ever occurred. The priest has denied that the Indonesian government had killed survivors of an attack on unarmed demonstrators that took place in East Timor's capital city, Dili, in 1991, according to the UPIU. Eyewitnesses have reported that the Indonesian army killed surviving demonstrators in the hospital where they were being treated. Fr. Wanandi has also denounced demands by some in the Catholic Church for a referendum on East Timor's future. In 1994, according to the UPIU, Fr. Wanandi was quoted saying that there was "a spontaneous want for freedom but no real idea of what to do if they got it," referring to residents of rural villages in East Timor.

Back in the United States, Trailmobile officials did not return phone calls.

Workers say that, in public, the company calls the lockout a strike. The company also downplays any connection between Trailmobile and the events in Indonesia.

Activists fighting to end U.S. support for the Indonesian military have found allies in the UPIU workers. Both have been waging corporate campaigns. The locked-out workers targeted Trailmobile's business partners and customers. The East Timor Action Network has focused its efforts on U.S. corporations operating in Indonesia.

Now, the two struggles have become intertwined. In April, a UPIU delegation visited union workers at Gemala-owned companies in Australia and New Zealand to spread the word about the strike. Last month, Jose Ramos-Horta, a leader of the East Timor resistance movement, spoke to the locked-out UPIU workers in Charleston.

"It helps people to understand that it's not just things happening in isolation," says Charles Scheiner, national coordinator of the East Timor Action Network. "All these things are connected."

But the activists have their work cut out for them. The House Foreign Operations Committee is currently evaluating the U.S. policy on Indonesia. The Indonesian government has already begun its lobbying, and ITPN, an Indonesian aircraft company, has announced that it will build a factory in the district of committee chair Sonny Callahan, R-Alabama. ITPN is headed by a man named Habibi, who many believe is the likely successor of Indonesian dictator Suharto.
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Title Annotation:Gemala Industries locks out striking workers in its Trailmobile plant in Charleston, Illinois
Author:Samuel, Leah
Publication:Multinational Monitor
Date:Jun 1, 1996
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