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A Case Study on the Independent Trade Union and Its Efforts to Organize and Mobilize Plantation Workers

de Groot Heupner, Susan (2016) A Case Study on the Independent Trade Union and Its Efforts to Organize and Mobilize Plantation Workers. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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Although it has been almost two decades since the fall of the authoritarian Suharto regime, political reform and democratization has not sufficiently challenged realities of systematic oppression, coercion and violence experienced by workers in palm oil plantations in North Sumatra, Indonesia. It is the aim of the thesis to expose the various ways in which trade unions are forced to manoeuvre within and against this system in their attempt to empower workers and built a political force. Although the tribune in Indonesia is built on legally binding pillars, these are proven too weak and corrupt for trade unionists to organize and emancipate plantation workers. This can partly be attributed to a history of ideological suppression and decades of authoritarian rule, and partly to the demands of modern capitalism and global production chains needing a “cheap, socially malleable and politically inarticulate” labour force.1 Based on extensive literature review, archival research and several months of first-hand observation of, and participation in, trade union activity, the study reveals the deeply embedded power structures that sustain the historical elements of the plantation system, and exposes the ways in which these mechanisms of power take shape and function to squeeze labour and capital. As a conclusion, the thesis argues the plantation is a system of violence that not only facilitates structural exploitation and oppression, it also works in manipulative ways to tear down the pillars of the tribune from which trade unionists attempt to speak.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Management and Governance
Supervisor(s): Wilson, Ian and Cook, Ian
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