Korean Trade Union Strategies in Economic and Social Crisis

Timo Fleckenstein

Organised Labour, Dualisation and Labour Market Reform: Korean Trade Union Strategies in Economic and Social Crisis” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2018.1536762) is a new article for JCA by Timo Fleckenstein of the Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics, London, UK and Soohyun Christine Lee of the Department of European and International Studies, King’s College London, UK.

Soohyun Christine Lee

The abstract for the paper states:

Labour markets across industrialised countries have seen an increasing polarisation between insiders and outsiders as a result of labour market deregulation and welfare retrenchment, with governments responding to rising pressure from employers. But where are trade unions in this process of labour market deregulation and dualisation? Insider/outsider as well as producer coalition approaches portray organised labour as a structurally conservative force that is ready to prioritise the interests of insiders at the expense of those at the margins of the labour market. Rather than protecting the entire working class, unions are seen as being “complicit” in labour market dualisation that leaves an ever greater number of workers vulnerable. Our examination of the Korean case, though commonly perceived as an example of unions pursuing particularistic interests, does not comply with this image, but shows greater union inclusiveness in the face of socio-economic and socio-political challenges. Understanding the change in Korean trade union strategies, we highlight the critical importance of union identities shifting towards social movement unionism, in addition to the perceived imperative to revitalise the movement in order to remain a meaningful social force.

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