Collective Memory and Post-colonial Narratives of the Indonesian Labour Movement

John Ingleson

Emeritus Professor at the University of New South Wales

The Indonesian labour movement in the 1950s built on more than twenty years of struggle against the colonial state. Many unions leaders in the 1950s had been active in the labour movement of the 1920s and 1930s, as had a number of prominent government ministers, including four prime ministers (Hatta, Sjahrir, Sukiman and Wilopo) and Kusumasumantri, Salim, Suroso and Trimurti. There was considerable continuity in the colonial and post-colonial labour movement.  The Labour Laws enacted by the Republic in 1948 encapsulated key objectives of the colonial labour movement and became a valuable industrial weapon for unions in the 1950s.  The central target of unions in the 1950s was the same as in the 1920s and 1930s – what communist and anti-communist union leaders alike called Dutch monopoly capitalism.  The goal was to end race discrimination in the workplace, abolish colonial methods of labour control, radically change colonial era structures of wages and conditions, nationalise foreign-owned companies in major sectors of the economy and promote national companies.  The history of the colonial labour movement became part of the collective memory of post-independence political and unions leaders and its story was woven into union narratives.


John Ingleson is an emeritus professor of history at the University of New South Wales. He is currently completing a book on the Indonesian labour movement during the first period of parliamentary democracy.


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