Trends and Prospects in 34 Countries
Edited By Craig Phelan
Indonesia’s New Unions 533
MICHELE FORD Indonesia’s New Unions 1. Introduction Trade unionism has undergone a period of rapid transformation in Indonesia since the fall of President Suharto’s New Order regime in mid-1998. Indonesia’s New Order (1967–98) created a punitive system of industrial relations under which a previously vibrant union movement was harshly curtailed. When the New Order came into power, leftist unions were banned and moderate and conservative unions were brought together under the umbrella of the All-Indonesia Labour Federation (Hadiz 1997). By 1985, the Federation had been restructured as a single trade union, the All-Indonesia Workers Union – an organisation that was heavily manipulated by the government and which served to control workers rather than represent them (Ford 1999, 2000). The union was again officially restructured as a feder- ation in 1993, and unaffiliated enterprise unions were permitted to register from 1994, but little real change was achieved. In practice, the New Order government effectively maintained its one-union policy by preventing independent trade union activity above plant level. As a result of the All-Indonesia Workers Union’s lack of inde- pendence, most labour organising took place outside the officially- sanctioned structures of labour representation in New Order Indonesia. By the early 1990s, there was a complex constellation of NGOs, student-sponsored workers’ groups and self-styled ‘alternative unions’ involved in labour organising and advocacy. Yet despite the sustained increase in informal labour organisation throughout the 1990s, workers were ill-placed to take advantage of the dramatic changes in Indonesia’s political and social landscape after Suharto’s resignation...
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