Indonesian labour since Suharto: Perspectives from the region

29 November 2016

Since the mid 1980s, Indonesian labour has gone through a turbulent period of restructuring and reformation, as the industrial relations landscape was transformed, firstly by the government’s export-oriented industrialisation strategy and then again when the political edifice of President Suharto’s New Order came crashing down in 1998. Scholarly interest in Indonesia’s industrial working class peaked in the 1990s, when factory workers struggled for the right to organise in the factories and on the streets, at a time when public protest was a dangerous strategy. In this period, Indonesians wrote a number of PhD theses on the subject of labour. The book published from the most influential of these was written by political scientist Vedi Hadiz at Murdoch University in Australia and is now the seminal work on organised labour during the New Order period (1997). Other Indonesian scholars who completed English-language PhD and Masters theses on labour-related issues in these years, included anthropologist Ratna Saptari (1995) in the Netherlands, and scholar-activists Sri Kusnyiati (1998) and Nori Andriyani (1996) in Australia and Canada respectively. Sutanta (also known as Sutanto Suwarno), a Department of Manpower official, also completed his PhD in the United Kingdom (1997). These students re-established the tradition of Indonesian scholars and scholar-bureaucrats from an earlier era, most notably Tedjasukmana (1958) and Hasibuan (1968).