Michele Ford

Abstract

There were considerable changes in Indonesia's industrial relations climate and regulatory framework during the Habibie interregnum. This article explores the implications of those changes for informal workers' organizations, unions and labour-oriented NGOs. The article is divided into two sections. The first section reflects upon the philosophy, institutions and practice of labour relations under Suharto's New Order and describes organized opposition to the industrial relations system, while the second describes the ways in which labour relations and representation changed during the Habibie interregnum.

Workers and Intellectuals

NGOs, Trade Unions and the Indonesian Labour Movement

Michele Ford

After decades of repression, Indonesia’s independent labour movement re-emerged in the 1990s led by the NGO activists and students who organised industrial workers and spoke on their behalf. Worker-led trade unions returned to centre stage in 1998 when Suharto’s authoritarian regime crumbled and labour NGO activists and their organisations continued to play an influential—and often controversial—part in the reconstruction of the labour movement. Workers and intellectuals explores how middle-class activists struggled to define their place in a movement shaped by more than a century of fierce debate about the role of non-worker intellectuals. Drawing on extensive interviews, this book documents the resurgence of labour activism and explains how activists and workers perceived the position of NGOs in relation to workers and trade unions. This fine-grained study of labour organising in a developing country speaks simultaneously to local and global questions and is important for scholars of labour history, politics and sociology as well as specialists working on Indonesia.

Michele Ford and Thushara Dibley

Abstract

In this article we examine the extent to which mediated diffusion through trade union development aid succeeded in helping to establish a labour movement in Aceh after the 2004 tsunami. The international labour movement organisations involved in the post-tsunami reconstruction effort in Aceh focused their efforts primarily on humanitarian aid, physical infrastructure and vocational education. However, they also supported trade union-building programs, which succeeded in strengthening individual trade unions and instilling a sense of shared identity amongst Acehnese labour activists but ultimately failed to ensure the sustainability of the movement. We argue that while the Aceh case highlights the importance of local context to the outcomes of such interventions, the constraints imposed on international labour donors and their local counterparts by their focus on reconstruction and the time pressures of the post-tsunami aid cycle raise questions about the efficacy of the aid model as a means of promoting the growth of a social movement.