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Organised Labour, Dualisation and Labour Market Reform: Korean Trade Union Strategies in Economic and Social Crisis

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Timo Fleckenstein, Soohyun Christine Lee

Original languageEnglish
JournalJOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY ASIA
Early online date23 Nov 2018
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Nov 2018

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Abstract

Labour markets across industrialised countries are under considerable pressure with governments implementing deregulating reforms in particular at the margins of the labour market, whereas regular workers have often seen very little decline in employment protection. Employers have been pushing hard for labour market deregulation, and it is therefore easy to see a government-business alliance at the heart of these developments. But where are trade unions in this process of labour market deregulation and dualisation? Insider/outsider as well as producer coalition approaches portrait organised labour as a structurally conservative force that prioritises the interests of labour market insiders, whilst sacrificing the interests of outsiders. Rather than protecting the 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 Korean trade union strategies, we identify the critical importance of union identities shifting towards social movement unionism, in addition to the perceived imperative to re-vitalise the movement in order to remain a meaningful social force.

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