Thinking Globally, Framing Locally: International Discourses and Labor Organizing in Indonesia


  • Steve Beers



Indonesia, Labor Rights, Labor Unions, Transnational Labor Activism, Transnational Social Movements


In the final decade of the New Order regime, Indonesian labor activists turned to international organizations as a key ally in the dangerous work of challenging the state-controlled labor regime. As the political context has become more open, international organizations have continued to play an important role in the labor movement. This paper examines the changing role of transnational labor activism in democratic Indonesia. First, the paper describes the emergence of the discourse of global labor rights in response to the challenges of globalization. It then sketches the historical relationship between the Indonesian state, the labor movement, and international activists. Finally, the paper examines an internationally supported union organizing campaign. Drawing upon the literature on discursive framing, the case suggests that while internationally circulating, rights-based discourses remain an important resource for domestic activists, such discourses must be translated and modified for the local political context.

Author Biography

Steve Beers

Steve Beers is a PhD student in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of the blog Working Indonesia. This article is based on a Master’s thesis in South-East Asian Studies written at the University of Michigan. Contact:  






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