THE URBAN

Peasants in the City

The floating mass strategy of cutting the rural population adrift from organized political activity and the politics of “clean environment” (bersih lingkungan) has immediate consequences for the city.49 In her study of the labor market in the urban construction sector, Kartini Sjahrir points out that the “stabilization and rehabilitation” program has pushed many villagers to leave the countryside for the city, where they are able to find new jobs and hope to disappear into the general urban population without being interrogated and harassed.50 For villagers, escape to the city was thus considered favorable.

The cleaning up of the village in the era of “stabilization and rehabilitation” had a spatial implication as it generated significant flow of migration to the urban center, especially the capital city, which, by then, had become the focus of national development. Ali Sadikin, the new governor of Jakarta at the time, recalled in his memoir that the waves of migration from the village had already entered the city even though urban development had not yet “taken off.”51 During the era of “stabilization and rehabilitation,” Sadikin also witnessed many “vagrants” (gelandangan) in the city.52 In the governor’s words, “so visible were vagrants in many parts of the city. The numbers increased almost on the daily basis. And this posed a problem for me. . . . In short, vagrants in the capital city have become a serious problem. Their numbers are high.”53 Most of the vagrants, the governor believed, were not home grown, but were from different parts of rural Java. Vagrancy in Indonesian political tradition, for both the left and the right, connotes instability and indecisiveness, qualities that could lead to destruction.54 For the governor, with the mandate from the state to help prevent social unrest and political disturbance, vagrants were not only a nuisance for the view of the city but were also potentially threatening to the public order.

Ali Sadikin witnessed the impact of labor migration from the countryside in the aftermath of 1965. Many villagers escaped to the city with the hope of getting new jobs without harassment from the state’s mission of “clean environment.” However, as a floating mass in the city, they became subjected to the play of power and knowledge from the municipality. Instead of recognizing the gelandangan as “circular migrants,” Ali Sadikin considered them “illiterate and unskilled cheap laborers from the countryside, trishaw drivers, construction workers, vendors, the homeless, beggars, and prostitutes.”55 Thus, he viewed them as deviant “others” in need of a space, which would take them away from the visibility of “clean” Jakarta (the heart of the nation’s modernity). The circular migrants, as pointed out earlier, just could not afford settling a family permanently in the city.56 They would prefer moving alone and along by sleeping under bridges or in their “trishaw” (becak) or putting up temporary accommodation in squats or staying in apondok (a hut-like lodging place, especially one made of cheap and impermanent materials) all of which the governor considered as unacceptable for a city that was trying hard to become a modern metropolis.57

At the beginning of his tenure, Sadikin called on the central government for help, and two measures were carried out in the early 1970s. The first was the effort of making Jakarta a closed city, and second, through the enforcement of the state, the deportation of migrants to outer islands under a national program known as trans- migrasi. Several scholars and activists have written about the deportation and relocation of less desirable people from the city and the politics of transmigrasi to the outer islands.58 It is sufficient to emphasize here that these programs of sending villagers away are related to the violent discourses of “clean environment” and the “floating mass.” Furthermore, these measures point to the problematic relations between the city and the countryside and perhaps more importantly, the importance of finding a spatial solution for a productive governing of the floating mass, especially in the context of the realization on the part of the policymakers that “Urbanisasi [meaning rural migration to the city] never stops as it cannot be stopped.”59 And, perhaps, following the logic of the floating mass it should never be stopped for the (circular) migrants are seen as valuable resources to be exploited for national development.

It eventually became clear to Sadikin that the method of closed city and transmigrasi were insufficient, impractical, and counterproductive. The question is more on how to control and in some ways make use of the labor power embedded in the floating mass for the advantage of the city and the nation. For instance, many migrants from villages were young men, and it was soon discovered that they would be a great labor pool for the construction industry necessary for capital city building.60 Consistent with the concept of floating mass, the government left these migrant laborers unregulated to prevent unionization and put them in the hands of “patron-client” informal networks of construction workers in the city, which continued to fuel and supply labor to and from rural areas.61 They were allowed to occupy unused land close to where they worked and many continued to stay there more permanently but there was no base for them to organize.

The millions of “village” (kampung) folks in the city thus found themselves living in shantytowns with no organized political life. They remained without any protection from the state and had to enact practices of self-help and mutual helping out, which constituted the informal sector. Their presence was and is tolerated because the city needs their labor, but their settlements are considered illegal and subject to eviction at any time, especially when investments have become available for “national development.” In some ways, one could understand the formation of “informality,” the term used for and by the urban poor, as actually a form of governance in which survival intersects with the deorganization of the urban floating mass. As peasants have become important nonfarm labor forces in the city, a new kind of space was called on to resolve the problem of urbanisasi.

 
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