Neoliberal Capitalism and Precarious Work
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Neoliberal Capitalism and Precarious Work

Ethnographies of Accommodation and Resistance

Edited by Rob Lambert and Andrew Herod

Since the renaissance of market politics on a global scale, precarious work has become pervasive. Divided into two parts, the first section of this cross-disciplinary book analyses the different forms of precarious work that have arisen over the past thirty years. These transformations are captured in ethnographically orientated chapters on sweatshops; day labour; homework; unpaid contract work of Chinese construction workers; the introduction of insecure contracting in the Korean automotive industry; and the insecurity of Brazilian cane cutters. The editors and contributors then collectively explore trade union initiatives in the face of precarious work and stimulate debate on the issue.
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Chapter 8: Organizing across a fragmented labour force: trade union responses to precarious work in Korean auto companies

Aelim Yun


In recent decades precarious employment has increasingly come to be found in not only some ‘non-standard’ employment relationships but also many ‘standard’ ones. Such precariousness is affecting different groups of workers in diverse ways, both within companies and between them. Several authors have suggested that its growth in labour markets across the industrialized world can be explained in terms of the so-called ‘flexible firm model’ theory. This theory argues that employers are increasingly seeking functional flexibility for ‘core’ workers (those who are typically highly trained and can easily be redeployed from one task to another), yet numerical flexibility for ‘peripheral’ workers (those who buffer the core workforce against fluctuations in demand) (Atkinson 1987). Much research, however, suggests that most large corporations are generally pursuing numerical flexibility for both groups, whilst maintaining fragmentation between workers (Harrison 1997). Thus, whereas some regular employees are still being protected from business fluctuations by their companies, the number is decreasing and many are gradually being replaced by precarious workers. In response to increasing anxiety about the potential for their terms of employment to deteriorate, regular workers will often pursue employment security through seeking the protection of trade unions. In so doing, though, they tend to further marginalize precarious workers, because unionized workers will often exclude the unorganized from trade unions (Lee and Frenkel 2004).

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