Seminar: The Re-emergence of Political Labour: Trade Unions and Indonesia’s 2014 Legislative and Presidential Elections
With Prof. Michele Ford
During the Suharto era, the official trade union was strictly prohibited from engaging with political parties and all but one of the ‘alternative’ unions publically rejected political unionism, preferring instead to seek recognition as a socio-economic force. Today, trade unions’ efforts to engage in electoral politics are tremendously significant for Indonesia’s emerging democracy.
In the early years of Indonesia’s return to democracy, trade unions sat on the side-lines in elections and depended on mass protests to advance their demands. However, labour leaders’ position on electoral politics shifted dramatically after the 2004 election. Increasingly frustrated with the government’s failure to stem labour rights abuses, the ineffectiveness of the labour law enforcement, and the weakness of the social safety net, many unionists concluded that they must engage in ‘formal politics’ if they are to secure more favourable policies for workers. By the time of the 2009 election, the question was no longer whether unions should try to influence politics, but whether they should do it by lobbying parties from outside the system or by running candidates for office.
In a context where the parties vying for power within Indonesia’s political system have made little attempt to define themselves by a commitment to particular policies, and have faced little pressure from outside to do so, trade unions’ efforts to engage in electoral politics are tremendously significant for Indonesia’s emerging democracy. Drawing on national data and case studies from union-dense locations in Java and Sumatra, this talk examines trade unions’ engagement in the 2014 electoral cycle and makes an assessment of its significance for Indonesian politics.
Professor Michele Ford is ARC Future Fellow and Director of the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre at the University of Sydney.
Open for all!