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The global uprising of labour?: The Korean labour movement and neoliberal social corporatism

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-07, 17:26 authored by Kevin GrayKevin Gray
The role of organized labour as expression of dissent or social resistance to neoliberal economic globalization has attracted increasing scholarly interest. Several writers have argued that we are witnessing the emergence of a 'global uprising of labour'. In particular, reference is made to the labour movements of the industrializing semiperiphery, such as South Korea, South Africa, and Brazil, which are argued to show a way forward for the labour movements of the North. Such analysis as above, however, focuses on only one aspect of labour movements at the expense of their larger historical context and position within the capitalist world system. By privileging the strictly 'global' level of analysis, it ignores a key transformation in the nature of national state-society configurations in the semiperiphery, i.e. the general trend towards both democratization and neoliberal restructuring. Through examining the case of South Korea, I argue that the transition from developmental authoritarianism to neoliberal democracy has dramatically narrowed the terrain from which militant unionism might be expected to emerge. Since the 1980s, the Korean labour movement has undergone a transformation from a militant and almost revolutionary movement, to being co-opted, albeit imperfectly, into the new capitalist democracy. Thus, the threat of neoliberal restructuring has led not to resistance but to labour to seeking a role as responsible partner to government and business in pseudo-social corporatism forums, despite the fact the striking thing about Korean industrial relations is the absolute absence of prerequisites for such a system of social agreement politics. This co-optation reflects general political conditions in the semiperiphery, where simultaneous processes of democratization and neoliberal restructuring have made the assumption of unified resistance to globalization more problematic.


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  • Published






Taylor & Francis





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  • International Relations Publications

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