The IUF Asia/Pacific Regional Organization in partnership with the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Education, State University of Surabaya [UNESA] organized an internship in the first half of 2023. Three social psychology students, Nuha, Najwa Athiyatul Mila and Aliifah Shafa Rani undertook a study of youth in unions in the Hotel & Tourism, Food Services and Food & Beverage sectors in Indonesia.

Working with the IUF-affiliated FSPM and FSBMM, the interns conducted extensive group interviews with young leaders and members to explore several aspects of decision-making among youth.

Through this study key conceptual tools were developed that provide a better understanding of the needs of youth, including “youth space”. Based on the interviews with youth, the study designed the concept of the “cycle of youth space” combined with the “cycle of youth in unions” to explain the youth-union dynamic (social identity and space).

The concept of “nyaman” (comfortable) was incorporated into “youth space” to better explain the needs of youth based on the interview results. This in turn provides valuable insights into the ways in which unions must change to ensure more youth join and are active unions.

Through this study the interns not only developed these important concepts for understanding youth in unions. They were also able to give greater insight into the activities of independent, democratic trade unions such as FSPM and FSBMM and challenge the incorrect public perception of trade unions in Indonesia as “trouble makers”.

In sharp contrast to the public perception of unions as organizations engaged in violent protests, disrupting traffic and disturbing public order and peace, the study reveals that trade unions like FSPM and FSBMM are engaged in peaceful, necessary demonstrations that express solidarity and empathy (“peduli”) for others facing injustice and mistreatment by employers. Moreover, by taking a fresh look at unions through youth members, the study shows that these unions are committed to education and training, developing knowledge and skills that empower union members and develops the next generation of leaders.

It is this unseen part of union activities that should receive more attention to change public perceptions.

It is necessary to change public perceptions of unions, so that the public sees the genuine values of trade unions (“peduli”), their sincere commitment to fair treatment of workers, and their education and training that develops knowledge and understanding, and builds confidence among young people. By correcting the public perception of unions and taking a fresh look through the eyes of youth in unions, youth will no longer face pressure from family and friends to avoid joining unions. Instead, they should be proud of joining and organization that provides youth with the safe space that is “nyaman” and gives them the recognition they deserve.