Politicizing the minimum wage: Wage councils, worker mobilization, and local elections in Indonesia

Teri L Caraway, Michele Ford, Oanh K. Nguyen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Indonesia’s weak labor movement transformed local wage councils from institutions of wage restraint into institutions that delivered generous wage increases. This article argues that the arrival of direct elections created an opportunity for unions to leverage elections to alter the balance of power on the wage councils. Activating that leverage required increased contentiousness and coordination among unions. As unions mobilized around wages, conflict with capital intensified and produced disruptive protests that led incumbents to side with workers. Unions also developed innovative tactics to sustain momentum in nonelection years. As unions turned the wage councils in their favor, employers fought back by shifting the scale of the conflict to the national level; the result was the recentralization of wage setting and more modest increases. In a global context of ever weakening organized labor, the Indonesian case shows how weak unions can gain power by mobilizing politically at the local level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)251-276
Number of pages26
JournalPolitics and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: Australian Research Council Discovery Project entitled “The Re-emergence of Political Labor in Indonesia” (DP120100654); Australian Research Council Future Fellowship entitled “Developing a Movement: Trade Unionism and Trade Union Aid in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Timor Leste” (FT120100778); and travel grants from the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts Travel Awards, the College of Liberal Arts McMillan Fund, and the Department of Political Science’s Lippincott Endowment.


  • Decentralization
  • Indonesian politics
  • Labor movements
  • Minimum wages
  • Tripartite institutions

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