Labour History

Indonesian Trade Unionists, the World Federation of Trade Unions and Cold War Internationalism, 1947–65

Labour History (2016), 111, (1), 27–44.


From 1947 to 1965, members of the communist-linked trade union federation SOBSI (Sentral Organisasi Buruh Seluruh Indonesia, All-Indonesian Trade Unions Centre) were actively involved in global Cold War politics through participation in international labour groupings and campaigns. Based predominantly on archival research, this paper argues that SOBSI’s internationalism had several main aims: to support the Indonesian state, particularly in the foreign policy realm, to further the goals of the Left domestically in Indonesia, particularly in facing off their political rivals, and to educate its membership about global working-class politics and the relevance of socialism and communism as political models in Indonesia. This article discusses the views and activities of Indonesian trade unionists on international issues of the 1950s and 60s, chiefly peace and disarmament issues, Western intervention and decolonisation struggles underway in Asia and Africa. It argues that the pressures of the Cold War, the Sino-Soviet split and political circumstances in Indonesia combined to narrow SOBSI’s internationalism and resulted in its utter devastation in the face of the 1965–66 Army-led anti-communist repression.

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*This research is part of a larger project with co-researcher Associate Professor Katharine McGregor (University of Melbourne) on Indonesians’ transnational activism during the Sukarno era (1949–66). The author acknowledges research funding received from the Australia-Netherlands Research Collaboration, the Norman Macgeorge Scholarship, the University of Melbourne’s Human Rights Scholarship and the University of Sydney’s Faculty Research Support Scheme. The author wishes to thank Vivian Honan for her research assistance, Diane Kirkby, Adrian Vickers, Annie Pohlman andLabour History‘s two anonymous referees. Google Scholar

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Author details

Hearman, Vannessa