The International Handbook of Labour Unions

The International Handbook of Labour Unions

Responses to Neo-Liberalism

Elgar original reference

Edited by Gregor Gall, Adrian Wilkinson and Richard Hurd

Since the 1970s, the spread of neo-liberalism across the world has radically reconfigured the relationship between unions, employers and the state. The contributors highlight that this is the major cause and effect of union decline and if there is to be any union revitalisation and return to former levels of influence, then unions need to respond in appropriate political and practical ways. Written in a clear and accessible style, the Handbook examines unions’ efforts to date in many of the major economies of the world, providing foundations for understanding each country.

Chapter 12: Neo-liberalism, Union Responses and the Transformation of the South Korean Labour Movement

Dae-oup Chang

Subjects: business and management, human resource management, organisational behaviour, social policy and sociology, labour policy


Dae-oup Chang INTRODUCTION 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. This chapter first 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 neo-liberal reform before the Asian economic crisis of 1997–8. The second analyses the impact of the post-crisis neo-liberal restructuring that involved market liberalisation, privatisation of the public sector and ‘irregularisation’ of labour. The third examines the response of unions and of the KCTU in particular to neo-liberal 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 antineo-liberal struggle. In the fourth the underlying reason why the KCTU can neither effectively use corporatist instruments nor charge more militant struggles...

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