Obituary Labor Activist: The Woodman Has Gone

Romli M. Zein (kanan), Koswara (kiri) Sumber ilustrasi: Rio Apinino

The grief of the workers in Tangerang came on Thursday morning, October 26, 2017. A fireworks factory burned down, trapping about 103 workers until they could not get out and end up victimized. At least 48 workers died and 46 others were injured.

The story of how the fate of laborers who fall victim to life like this is not the first time. Too often the story of the workers who sell their time, energy, and mind to be paid cheaply, then become casualties or death at work. Not to mention the labor-normative problems that are easily found in the industrial pockets of this archipelagic country: The status of contract work, not getting menstruation leave, unilateral termination of employment, and so forth.

These various labor issues are commonly advocated by Romli M. Zein, one of the activists of the Main Workers Union Federation (FSBKU). Unfortunately, he will not be able to defend the workers or workers’ families who are victims of the factory explosion. Nor will he ever be able to defend the normative issues of other workers. The footsteps of his struggle have reached the end, leaving behind the services and memories for those who have been defended by Romli.

Romli suddenly left Tangerang in the heat of Thursday afternoon, within half a century of his age. After the meeting to create the operational plan of the production cooperatives made by him and his colleagues in the union, he fell and could not be helped. Leaving mourning for the family, for friends, for factory workers.

Last year twice he came to my house for the purposes of installing bookshelves. From his harsh hand, Romli-who is now a carpenter-has produced a delicate work. A row of books Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Paulo Coelho, to Eka Kurniawan adorn his bookcase. I’m sure the great writers would be glad to see the books they had written with their hearts, tucked neatly in the shelves of a worker.

The glass of coffee I offered him when he put the bookshelves down was rejected. The offer of a glass of tea I submitted and received. After working, sitting enjoying tea, he told me at length about how he was now building a business with his friends. I just nodded my head enjoying every detail of his life story.

Romanticism 13 years ago when I knew him the first time also became a hot topic of our conversation. At that time I was a freshman, who knew nothing, and knew him who had led the actions of thousands of unemployed Tangerang workers. One month more they occupied the Ministry of Manpower-formerly the Department of Labor-to demand the right of workers fired without severance pay because the capital owners fled to their home country.

Romli’s expertise to keep a bookcase or cabinet can not be separated from his experience working in a wood factory for 20 years in Tangerang, before finally he and his colleagues were fired unilaterally by the company.

Romli led a unilateral layoffs protest, and mobilized his comrades to occupy the factory for 1.5 years while fighting in the realm of law. Until the final judgment of the court grants the workers’ claims.

And not limited to the amount of severance pay that he was looking for. More than that is the self-esteem and the right as a worker who should be met, not dumped after the workers employed by employers. And in many labor conditions in Indonesia, those rights must be taken.

Romli was not a trade union leader thirsty for political position; not the title or treasure he was looking for. Justice is what he is looking for, something absurd, invisible but visible.

The wood worker who is aware of the class and his rights has now gone. Her face was still vaguely pictured. Sad still left. He departed only a few months after his best friend in the labor movement, Koswara, first faced the Khalik because of a heart attack. And now Romli went after Koswara. As if there was a longing in Romli to his friend, and vice versa.

Romli is one of a handful of labor warriors who have left because of illness. Bina is a union associate who has left first. Also John Silaban, a labor activist from the Indonesian Labor Struggle Federation. Also Beno Widodo and Joko Sumantri from the Alliance of Indonesian Trade Union Congress.

Now they are gathered together by the side of God, looking at us from the sky, waiting (and witnessing) new generations to replace the sincerity of their struggle.

What Romli did was not recorded by history books-probably not yet. And, I’m sure he did not question it because he is not a figure who love popularity. If not written in history, what half his life he lakoni has planted and grown in the minds of the factory workers who have felt the struggle sincerely. And from the mouth of the workers is uttered prayer for all his goodness. Amen


Alfa Gumilang from Serikat Pekerja Media dan Industri Kreatif untuk Demokrasi (SINDIKASI)


This article was previously published in re-publish for educational purposes.


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