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Cross-National Comparisons of Social Movement Unionism

Diversities of Labour Movement Revitalization in Japan, Korea and the United States


Edited By Akira Suzuki

For the past two decades efforts to halt the decline in union numbers and revitalize the labour movement have largely resided in social movement unionism (SMU). In the first English-language book to compare SMU in Japan, Korea and the United States, scholars from the three countries examine its emergence as a response to neoliberal globalization. Cross-National Comparisons of Social Movement Unionism moves beyond previous studies of SMU and union revitalization which have focussed on the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. The eleven chapters offer empirical and theoretical analyses of the impact of SMU on existing labour movements, and explain the mediating factors that account for the diversity of SMU across national boundaries, arguing that its forms and activities are mediated by different institutional, political and economic contexts.


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Akira Suzuki Introduction


Akira Suzuki 1 Introduction: Theoretical and Empirical Issues of Cross-national Comparisons of Social Movement Unionism Introduction Labour movements in advanced industrialized countries have suf fered a decline in membership and density and a weakened presence in their respective societies. The decline of organized labour is particularly pro- nounced in Liberal Market Economy countries (LMEs) where institutional arrangements regulating industrial relations and government social policies have weakly mediated the impact of neoliberal globalization on labour movements. Trade unions have continued losing members as they fail to keep up with the increasing speed of capital mobility when, for instance, companies in manufacturing industries, unions’ traditional base, relo- cate plants overseas. Unions have suf fered further loss of members from subcontracting/out-sourcing of business activities in domestic-oriented industries and the privatization of publicly-owned enterprises. Moreover, neoliberal states have created hostile environments for labour movements, for example, by deregulating labour markets and reforming industrial rela- tions institutions in order to undermine the position of trade unions as legitimate representatives of workers’ collective interests. Labour movements, however, have at times gone on the of fensive, and some unions have attempted to recoup their strength vis-à-vis management and states by adopting proactive policies such as organizing unorganized workers and making unions less bureaucratic and more movement-oriented organizations. Previous studies have examined conditions under which 2 Akira Suzuki trade unions have reversed course and adopted proactive policies, what labour scholars call union or labour ‘revitalization’, based on the assump- tion that trade unions, while constrained by external...

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