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Neoliberalism, Trade Union Response, and the Transformation of the Korean Labour Movement

Chang, Dae-Oup (2011) 'Neoliberalism, Trade Union Response, and the Transformation of the Korean Labour Movement.' In: Gall, G and Hurd, R and Wilkinson, A, (eds.), International Handbook on Labour Unions: responses to neo-liberalism. London: Edward Elgar, pp. 201-227.

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Abstract

This article aims to analyse the nature, forms and effectiveness of the unions’ response to neo-liberalism in South Korea. It does so by looking mainly at various responses from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and its affiliates and tracing the trajectory of union responses in relation to capital, the state and unorganised workers. The first part of the article describes the ways in which the democratic labour movement re-emerged in the 1980s and became an important social force against the repeated attempt of the state and capital to introduce a full-scale neoliberal reform before the Asian economic crisis of 1997-8. The second part analyses the impact of the post-crisis neo-liberal restructuring that involved market liberalisation, privatisation of the public sector and ‘irregularisation’ of labour. This is followed by the third part that looks into the response of unions and of the KCTU in particular to neoliberal reforms. Although the KCTU and democratic unions continue to be leading figures in challenging neo-liberal reforms, their struggle against neo-liberalism showed a zigzag development with the leadership vacillating between militancy and social dialogue, social reform and fundamental social change, and nationalism and internationalism, undermining the effectiveness of struggles against neo-liberalism. In striving to confront the neo-liberal offensive, a particular nexus between nationalism, social democracy and social corporatism emerged and secured majority leadership in the KCTU. This leadership however has been incapable of creating a wider alliance of anti-neoliberal struggle. In the fourth part, I address the underlying reason why the KCTU can neither effectively use corporatist instruments nor charge more militant struggles against neo-liberalism. I argue that it is largely because the KCTU failed to overcome male-dominated, formal and industrial worker-centred enterprise unionism. The concluding part suggests that for both radical socialists and nationalist social democrats, it would be extremely difficult to pursue struggles for an alternative to neo-liberalism without building up more inclusive social unionism that could integrate the increasing number of irregular workers within and outside workplaces.

Item Type: Book Chapters
SOAS Departments & Centres: Faculty of Law and Social Sciences > Department of Development Studies
ISBN: 9781848448629
Depositing User: Dae-Oup Chang
Date Deposited: 15 Aug 2011 13:25
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/12155

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