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Trade Union Revitalisation

Trends and Prospects in 34 Countries

Edited By Craig Phelan

Although trade unionism has been declining in virtually every part of the world, its continued demise is not a foregone conclusion. As it has throughout its history, trade unionism has demonstrated a capacity to adapt, to make its voice heard, to reassert its power. The scale and scope of experimentation taking place in the labour movement today is testimony not just to the depth of the crisis but also to the possibility of resurgence in the years ahead. This book is an essential resource for anyone wishing to know about contemporary labour issues. It offers a comprehensive introduction to the state of trade unionism in the world today, and the often innovative strategies and tactics trade unionists are using to revive their organisations in each of the major nations of the world. Leading labour scholars discuss, in clear prose, the health of the trade union movement, the present political and economic climate for trade union advancement, the dominant revitalisation strategies, and future prospects in each nation. Each chapter includes an up-to-date guide to further reading.


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Korean Labour in Crisis 519


DOOWON SUH Korean Labour in Crisis 1 1. Introduction Since the early 1970s the Korean labour movement has been one of the principal agents in the struggle for political democracy and socio- economic justice, operating and surviving under the draconian repres- sion of the authoritarian regime. In the June 1987 mass movement for democracy that was organised by a variety of civil groups, industrial workers stood at the forefront and helped to topple the dictatorial military government that had been in power since the birth of the Republic of Korea in 1948. With the advent of democracy, the union- isation of both blue- and white-collar workers nationwide progressed rapidly, and their movements were suffused with diverse demands for social reform and political innovation. Deprived of institutionalised policy-making roles even after democratisation due to the opposition of capital and the state, trade unions nevertheless emerged as an influential social and political force. Although at times the fledging democratic government suppressed trade union activity no less harshly than its predecessors, and although it maintained a strategy of ex- cluding labour from politics, trade unions increased their organ- isational, social and political power until the end of 1997. When Korea was struck by the financial crisis in November 1997, industrial workers and office employees faced hardships not ex- perienced since the Korean War (1950–3). Socio-economic conditions worsened considerably and job losses were high. In this atmosphere trade unionism lost momentum. Many organisations became rent by division, they were less able to mobilise...

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