Labor Demonstration and the State of Consciousness Blindness

New Year euphoria has just ended and workdays have just been started. Expectations and resolutions for 2014 have come with a strong hope that all of them will be soon realized. However, my first post in 2014 is not about my resolutions. Rather, I would try to bring a flashback about an incident happened in the past: labor demonstration for higher wage demand. As workdays have just been started for 2014, labors also start to work and it is not impossible for them to do the same thing: to demonstrate asking higher wage. Thus, should people in Indonesia react in the same way? I mean that for those who condemned the action in the past would also do the same thing in 2014 and so does for those who support the action. In this writing, I would like to elaborate some ideas about labor demonstration. As usual, I would not justify what is right and wrong. Preferably, I would try to bring all of us contemplate about the meaning of such an action and the relation between the demonstration and our lives.

At a glance, in 2013, it did seem that those who condemned labor demonstration outnumbered those who supported the action. There were several reasons raised; but the main reason was about the demonstration that was considered as disturbing so most people cannot do their daily activity properly. The reason seemed quite logical. Demonstration just makes traffic jam gets worse. Moreover, productivity can also get lower because labors are often insisted to join the demonstration, regardless their conscience says. Domino effect can then be forecasted such as lower economic growth, etc. It then seems that demonstration just brings negative effects to Indonesia. But, is it the real case? How if the condition is reversed and we bring the condition unto the most extreme point, namely no demonstration is allowed?

Thanks to labor demonstration

Nowadays, middle class people in Indonesia are rising. It is not hard to find clear evidence describing such condition. It can be clearly seen when people can easily afford motorcycle or car as their private vehicle to go to work. Furthermore, consumerism has also successfully lingered Indonesians and it can be clearly seen when you saw many people queuing at cashier to pay their Christmas and New Year shopping yesterday. If you really want to find scientific evidence regarding Indonesia middle class, you could find about the study that has been conducted by World Bank or IMF or other NGOs. The rising middle class is a fact and how could we relate such a phenomenon with labor demonstration?

If there were no demonstration, Indonesians would not be recognized as a democratic country. Political and economic turmoil that happened in 1998 clearly demonstrated that sometimes demonstration and speak-up was needed in order to prevent dictatorship. When injustice has just been indicated and no one is brave enough to speak-up, should people sleep well in the dictatorship and rely on arbitrary power who leads them? I do not think so. Human beings are kind of beings who are endowed with reasons in order to not get blind and critically think about the circumstances surrounding them, That is why demonstration and speak-up are needed because human beings know when there is something wrong, they cannot stand still.

The same phenomenon also prevails for middle class Indonesians. In my opinion, the rising middle class of Indonesia cannot be made independent from labor demonstration. If there were no demonstration at all, capitalists would have an arbitrary power to do whatever they want. You could find out easily about Haymarket Incident: an incident that is marked as the deflection point of labor to curb the arbitrary power of capitalists. Could you imagine if there was no Haymarket Incident and capitalists can arbitrarily utilize their labors to work about 20 hours a day without proper wage? Haymarket Incident is just one clear example how labors demonstration clearly affects our lives nowadays. People nowadays just enjoyed the struggle conducted by the labor in the past. We can now enjoy 8 working hours a day, good salary, bonus, and so on because there was an awareness rising in the past about injustice conducted by capitalists. Thus, the raising middle class cannot be independently investigated without involving labor demonstration as one of its starting points. Thanks to labor demonstration conducted in the past: I think this is the best way to say grateful for our condition today.

However, there is also a problem raised by such a labor demonstration and middle class rising. It is true that workers are paid more properly than in the past. But, such a salary will then lead to another problem; a problem that I would like to call: consciousness blindness.

Consciousness blindness

What money can’t buy? That is a question posed by Michael Sandel, an American philosopher. The question also becomes a title of one of his treatises after he published “Justice”. According to Sandel, in this current circumstance, money can buy nearly everything. In Indonesia, it can be clearly seen when corruptors could easily bribe jail warden so they can have special treatment in the jail. This is a simple case to show that money does really matter. However, also according to Sandel, society should not work in that way. It is true that everything needs money but money should have not be able to buy everything. There is something that should be properly placed: value. Once value has been successfully diminished by money, society is not walking in the right way. Hence, how we correlate consciousness blindness and money can buy everything-phenomenon?

Human beings have desire to be better and get more in nearly everything. A father who failed to pursue his higher education in a world class university, for example, might have a desire to send down his desire to his children. He has a desire that his descendants will have a better future than him. Moreover, the phenomenon does not only occur in a family relationship. In a class struggle, human beings also have desire to get better. When they look above, they will have a desire to be like those who are above them. Their ego will then lead them to strive so they can afford everything similar owned by the people who are considered above them. Furthermore, the condition does not always mean that they need the things. Often, the condition happens otherwise: they have a desire to have something because of social status adhered to the desired things. In this case, people may buy a car not because they need it for transportation but because they tend to “upgrade” their social status and not being looked as “less” than other. In this circumstance, people value others because the things they have and getting better means have more and more luxurious things. It then means: as long as you have sufficient means, you could afford nearly everything and you could achieve higher social status. Thus, sufficient means is the prerequisite. And this is the actual starting point of consciousness blindness.

In my hypothesis, consciousness blindness is started when money can buy nearly everything. In this case, human beings no longer realize about their actual status and, moreover, about the historical importance of their current condition. Let me give you a simple example: what is the difference between managers with our current status of “labors”? The difference is actually bias. The former holds a stronger position than a later because they can afford more money than the later. Based upon my above explanation, endowed with more sufficient means, the managers will have higher status compared with the “labors.” Realistically speaking, both of them have no difference at all since they are all labors because they are paid. However, while the managers can afford more sophisticated things with the salary, they tend to think that their status is actually above mere “labors.” Thus, it can be said that this is the state of consciousness blindness: a state where human beings do not realize their actual condition caused by the paradigm shift (in the above case, the shifter is money that can buy nearly everything).

In such a state, human beings no longer realize their actual status. This might become the main reason why many people condemned labor demonstration conducted at Jakarta last year. The blind condition might successfully deliver them to not realize that their recent high salary and better working condition were actually the result of labor demonstration conducted in the past. Had it not happened, they would not have enjoyed the same thing as today. Blurred by the presence of money, what they have in mind nowadays was to show that they had higher status that was needed to be preserved; to always differentiate them with the “mere labor.” Hence, once their daily activities to generate money have to face “unpredicted” and “non-sense” obstacles, condemnation can easily out from them. Thus, the consciousness blindness may be the appropriate reason why labor demonstration can be easily condemned in this country with its incessant growing of middle class.

However, consciousness blindness is not only the problem of the middle class. It also engulfs the “mere labor” class. Labor struggle conducted in the past was aimed to prevent the arbitrary power of the capitalists. The question that should be asked is then: does our current labor demonstration really aim at the goal? In my opinion, the “mere labor” class also gets trapped with consciousness blindness. It could be clearly seen when labor demonstration started to demand something that is not related to their wellbeing, such as private vehicle credit. In such a case, labors are then trapped in “money can buy everything” term since they demand something that they consider will improve their social status, whereas it is only an illusion. Thus, how can be the problem solved? The thing that has to be done is to preserve social justice.

I do not want to extensively elaborate about what social justice really is. One thing that people should know is social justice is really important for society as a whole; as has been clearly explained by Joseph Stiglitz in his treatise “The Price of Inequality.” Once social justice is preserved, society can move on the right path. However, there is a price that should be paid if we want to bring in social justice: reduction of avaricious attitude.

When people accumulates wealth for their own benefit, they should realize that actually there are many people outside their circle who are very vulnerable because they cannot even afford their basic daily needs. This is why greediness should be abolished. I do not mean that those who have capital or entrepreneur do not have a right to earn profit. It is their right to earn as much profit as possible and also to accumulate it. I do not also mean that everyone should be prohibited to buy luxurious things in order to prevent envious feeling among social classes. It is also their right to have such things. What I would like to underline is: what is right is not always wise; so it is important to also bring your ratio to become a wise person.

In this case, I do not think that accumulating wealth while others should still live in dire circumstances is a wise action even though it is right. And in my opinion, to become wise is not either to let labors should face hard living while their boss can live with abundance or incessantly demand wage increase while their boss is facing difficulties. In this regard, there should be a transparency and consensus between the two parties and such a case is located beyond the scope of this article. And for the last part, I also think that to become wise is also to acknowledge the importance of history. One thing should be underlined: our working condition can be better because of labor struggle happened in the past and let not the money throws out the history and deliver us to get trapped into a state of consciousness blindness.