Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of History and Politics - Faculty of Arts


This thesis examines NGOs position in the Indonesian labour movement from an historical perspective, crossing the disciplines of labour history and industrial relations. It argues that while the NGOs acted as classical labour intellectuals in late New Order Indonesia (1989-1998), recognition of that role was circumscribed by prevailing definitions of the labour movement. The study makes a case for redrawing the traditional boundaries of that movement to incorporate other types of organisations concerned with labour. Although it focuses on NGOs that dealt with industrial labour in the specific context of Indonesia in the final decade of the twentieth century, its findings suggest that a similar argument could made about other non-traditional labour movement organisations that deal other groups of workers, such as people employed in the informal sector or overseas migrant labour. The structure and methodology of the study are informed by Foucaults notion of a history of the present and Hymans call to interrogate the criteria of significance on which analyses of industrial relations are based. The thesis examines how definitions of organised labour and the labour movement were historically constructed to exclude intellectuals and non-union organisations. It does so in order to explain why labour NGOs were considered outsiders in the present. The thesis compares accounts of labour history written under the New Order (1967-1998) with those written during the post-Independence period (1945-1965), demonstrating that New Order labour history was a victors history, written to emphasise the working-class composition and the apolitical nature of true labour unions. It then examines two phases in development of labour NGOs: the eight years between 1991, when labour NGOs launched their first major campaign, and 1998, when President Suharto fell from power; and the three years immediately following Suhartos resignation. The developments in the early post Suharto period (1998-2001) brought tensions between NGOs participation in the labour movement and position as non-worker outsiders into sharp relief, demanding we question whether the union centred definitions of the labour movement reflect the contemporary realities of organised labour in Indonesia.

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