Ethnographies of Accommodation and Resistance
Edited by Rob Lambert and Andrew Herod
Chapter 8: Organizing across a fragmented labour force: trade union responses to precarious work in Korean auto companies
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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