The 3rd Session of IIAS Southeast Asian Studies Lectures | Solidarity and Collective Resistance in Precarious Labor: The Case of Ride-hailing Drivers in Indonesia

On the morning of June 7th, 2021, the third session of IIAS Southeast Asian Studies Lectures was held at Conference Room 205 of the Central Main Building, with the theme of “Solidarity and Collective Resistance in Precarious Labor: The Case of Ride-hailing Drivers in Indonesia”. The lecture was presented by Aulia Nastiti, a doctorate candidate in Politics from Northwest University, and hosted by Xia Fangbo, a doctorate candidate at the Institute for International and Area Studies, Tsinghua University (IIAS-THU), to other doctorate candidates at IIAS and external students.

Aulia Nastiti revealed the topic of today’s lecture by explaining the reasons why ride-hailing drivers have the ability to organize continuous and large collective actions, and how to push these drivers to a personalized labor system on the premise of platform-based odd jobs.

According to Aulia Nastiti, multi-level collective action is conducive to the formation and maintenance of solidarity, during which, the role of mobilization entrepreneurs includes providing social incentives and resources for collective resistance and establishing or organizing structures across communities. But meanwhile, the challenges include the dispersion between different mobilizers, the connection and wooing between customers, and the gap in interests and goals between the driver community and the mobilization entrepreneurs. She mentioned that before COVID-19 pandemic, the fieldwork methods used usually included reviewing government documents, newspapers and publications, engaging archival research, organizing interviews and participating in community activities of the respondents. She highlighted that it is very important to understand the background, jargons, emotions and norms when conducting fieldwork in Indonesia, especially when participating in the discussion of online social media. At the same time, it is essential to pay attention to social media and community language, and make friends with journalists and archivists, especially those who work in your field of interest.

Aulia Nastiti explained that collective action is one of the foundations of their daily work in the activities of Indonesian ride-hailing drivers. For example, drivers often organize collective assistance. When accidents happen, drivers will provide help, share information and even offer informal welfare assistance to other drivers. She also pointed out that the nature of employment relations in Indonesia is changing. With the increase of enterprises, the forms of employment, including temporary workers, are becoming more diversified. She further stressed that the common reality faced by Asian countries is that the political competition structure has not really eliminated the difficulties and obstacles faced by odd workers, and politicians have no real motivation to mobilize ride-hailing drivers and defend their rights. In particular for motorcycle riders, the services they provide are not recognized public transportation services in today’s regulation, so motorcycle riders and drivers are also marginalized in Indonesia’s institutional regulation.

Aulia Nastiti claimed that local governments should redistribute resources, rearrange social relations and help motorcycle riders improve their living conditions. As far as drivers are concerned, they regard this kind of assistance and welfare sharing as a form of collective action. She concluded that collective action should not be regarded as an accidental result, but more as the result of collective pressure, which forces workers to unite and resist horizontal conflicts, and this kind of behavior does promote the formation of a united community. However, it should be noted that the collective resilience and solidarity of ride-hailing drivers are insufficient to launch a collective resistance, and other structural factors need to be considered.

After the lecture, Aulia Nastiti had heated discussion with the audience and gave excellent and specialized answers to a series of questions raised by the audience, including the distinction between the levels of collective action, the impact of government welfare assistance on labor, and how leaders in the driver community have gained power.

Aulia Nastiti is a doctorate candidate in the Department of Political Science, Northwestern University. She holds an MA from Universite de Lyon 3 and a BA from the University of Indonesia. She used to be a lecturer at the University of Indonesia and has rich experience in fieldwork. Her research interest covers labor politics, social movements and Islamic organizations. Her research findings have been published in Contemporary Southeast Asia and other international journals.

Text by: Wang Zijing
Typesetting by: Wang Zijing
Reviewed by: Xiafangbo & Song Tianyun