Striking miners in Papua demand more of the wealth they create

National Police moved heavy equipment into place on Tuesday as the Indonesian government began stepping up its efforts to break a strike by miners in the province of Papua. Miners at the Grasberg mining complex owned by Freeport McMoran have been on strike for six weeks. Freeport McMoran, one of the world’s largest mining companies headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona, mines gold and copper at Grasberg.

About 10,000 workers, nearly half of the Grasberg workforce, went out on strike in September to demand higher wages. Currently, their base wage is the equivalent of $2.10 per hour. They want the base rate increased to $7.50 per hour. The miners contend that they are the lowest paid of all Freeport workers, which owns mines throughout the world, even though the Grasberg mines are the most profitable gold and copper mines in the world.

After the strike began, the company said that it would increase wages by 25 percent and then more recently increased its offer to 30 percent. Strikers rejected both offers.

Since the strike began, strikers have been blockading roads leading to the mines, which are located in a mountainous region of Papua. The strike has significantly reduced production. Bloomberg reports that “production has fallen  . . . enough to threaten the company’s fourth-quarter sales estimates.” Production is now about 75 percent of normal.

National Police have been siding with Freeport to keep the mines open and normalize production. During an October 10 confrontation when the police were escorting replacement workers through the blockade, the police shot and killed Peter Ayameseba, one of the strikers. Six other miners were wounded.

After the shooting, it was reported that Freeport pays the National Police $14 million to assist the company in its operations in Papua. The Jakarta Post reports that 80 percent of the payments are used to provide support facilities, meal money, and transportation. The rest is direct cash payments.

The workers’ strike has been supported by those who support Papuan national liberation. Papua was annexed in 1969 by Indonesia, and those who oppose Indonesian rule think that the Freeport mines are closely tied to their national oppression. Suharto, the former Indonesian dictator, agreed to a deal to make the area where the Grasberg mines noq exist available to Freeport in 1967, two years before Papua’s annexation by Indonesia.

In the Papuan capital of Jayapura, students recently formed the People’s Movement Against Freeport Crimes and are demanding that the company leave Papua. At one of the recent demonstrations against Freeport, one of the banners read, “the Papuan people must assert sovereignty over their natural resources.”

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