Women Research Institute

Promoting women leadership and inclusive,
gender-based, and sustainable natural resource governance

Moral Economy of Women at the Factory: Social Dynamics at the Workplace (1)

 

Introduction

This essay is based on the research findings on women workers by several researchers from Women Research Institute (WRI) who used a feminist method. The case study on women workers, who migrated from the village to the city, and several challenges in the industrial world and the urban life was not only a means to gain a deeper understanding on the life struggles of women workers, but also an effort to reveal and draw attention to their inner voices. This essay does not only discuss the strategy of survival of women workers in the industrial relation context; but more than that – the association between them and consumptive behavior, organizational activities, and pragmatic issues in the city.


This study is based on several questions, namely how women workers free themselves from the agricultural world, how women workers adjust themselves to the industrial environment, what their strategies are to survive in metropolitan cities, and how women workers position themselves when they leave the village for the city. The context of surviving in cities is not only based on economy per se, but also on social cultural strategies that they develop. Therefore, the economic aspect, the social relation in terms of social capital, consumptive behavior and women’s lifestyle in the city should be understood in a more comprehensive manner. Everything is related and, therefore, difficult to be separated with one another. All this is of great importance to both academic interests and advocacy.

Moral Economy of Women at the Factory: Social Dynamics at the Workplace (1)

 

Introduction

 

This essay is based on the research findings on women workers by several researchers from Women Research Institute (WRI) who used a feminist method. The case study on women workers, who migrated from the village to the city, and several challenges in the industrial world and the urban life was not only a means to gain a deeper understanding on the life struggles of women workers, but also an effort to reveal and draw attention to their inner voices. This essay does not only discuss the strategy of survival of women workers in the industrial relation context; but more than that – the association between them and consumptive behavior, organizational activities, and pragmatic issues in the city.

Moral Economy of Women at the Factory: Social Dynamics at the Workplace (4)

  

An asymmetrical industrial relation is managed by women workers in various ways, such as using strategies or negotiations with the industrial apparatus or developing a particular social strategy. A case of this is Enong, who experienced a miscarriage in 2006. As presented by Diana Teresa Pakasi in this book, the company where Enong works considered her absence during the miscarriage as not part of the menstrual or maternity leaves, thus she was not entitled to receive a full salary. However, Enong pressured her company to pay her wages and involved in her factory’s labor union (PUK). Instead of fighting for rights as a member, the union oppressed her instead. The network of knowledge and power that the union had made the organization feel that they do not need to be equal with Enong. In order to proceed with solving the case, they required Enong “to recruit 10 other laborers to be members of the labor union”. Fulfilling the requirement was not easy, yet Enong chose to see it from a positive point of view: securing fellow laborers as a social capital that could protect her in the future, as well as part of a lesson for laborers to not hastily become a member of the labor union when they face a problem. On the other hand, it was also a disciplining process to laborers, which at a certain degree can be considered as an absolute truth, that should be adhered to by the labor union, laborers, and apparatus of the company.

Moral Economy of Women at the Factory: Social Dynamics at the Workplace (3)


The matrix below is the findings of WRI researchers about a number of issues faced by women workers in their industrial relations.

Moral Economy of Women at the Factory: Social Dynamics at the Workplace (2)

 

The relation between workers and employers in Indonesia in the 1970s was still largely characterized by a rural-style patron-client social relation. The labor of traditional brick factories around Bekasi, for instance, assume the role of client, whereas factory owners take on the role of patron, by providing all kinds of protection. That pattern gradually disappeared along with the change in a majority of villages in Bekasi into an industrial area. The number of entrepreneurs of traditional bricks fell drastically. Industrialization pushed various changes in the local level, such as the revocation of land ownership rights or villagers who “changed profession” to factory workers or started working at other non-agricultural sectors. The migrant labor that “flooded” the industrial areas around Bekasi advantaged local citizens who then started various businesses, such as dorms, boarding rooms, small diners, and other services. Industrialization has changed the face of Bekasi’s villages, both in infrastructure and in its more “urbanized”1 culture. For instance, making appointments with fellow workers to eat and shop together in a mall or purchasing cellphones. Their choice in fashion also adopts the taste of the middle class. Their consumptive behavior is currently even more difficult to be differentiated with the consumptive behavior of other social classes. This means that the presence of women workers in the industrial area must be placed within the context of cultural changes, and their strategies in handling such changes.