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Yongjin Nho and Hyung-Tag Kim

This chapter explores the militant unionism of Korean labor, tracing its form to a history of resistance to authoritarianism. While militant labor unionism has had some successes, including gains in and protection of wages, it appears burdened with unintended consequences in the enterprise-centered landscape of Korea: inter-union rivalry and increasing wage differentials by firm size and employment status, as well as negative employment outcomes. While unions have attempted to reorganize along industrial lines, they have to date been effectively muted despite distorted statistics suggesting the contrary. The two competing national unions – the ‘old unionism’ enterprise-based FKTU, and the industrializing KCTU, further complicate the picture, with branch affiliate negotiations effectively draining industry level vigor. Case discussion of the Korean Financial Industry (FKTU affiliate) and Korean Metal Workers Union (KCTU affiliate) helps to shed light on the reality of multi-employer bargaining practices.