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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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Part One The Impact of Social Movement Unionism


on Existing Labour Movements Jennifer Jihye Chun 2 The Power of the Powerless: New Schemas and Resources for Organizing Workers in Neoliberal Times The struggles of workers located at the margins of the economy and society have thrust the issue of social justice to the forefront of labour movements around the world. In perhaps the most well-known case, janitors, many of whom are immigrants, people of colour and women employed in low-paid, precarious and subcontracted jobs in the United States, have successfully organized under the morally-charged banner, ‘Justice for Janitors’ (not ‘compensation for custodians’ as Rudy Preston (2004) puts it). Socially disadvantaged workers in other low-paid occupations such as homecare aides, hotel cleaners, nursing care workers, security guards and domestic workers have also joined organized labour’s ranks, highlighting the overlap- ping nature of economic struggles with ‘struggles for recognition’ – that is, symbolic-cultural struggles aimed at revaluing the identities and worth of devalued groups in society (Fraser 1995). Across the Pacific, the struggles of workers in the rapidly growing pijonggyujik [non-standard employment] sector, many of whom are women in low-paid work, have made the poor, the excluded and the marginalized increasingly central to the aims and concerns of the Korean labour movement. No longer willing to accept the stigma and chronic poverty associated with work on the ‘lowest rungs of the social hierarchy’, some of the most invisible and unexpected groups of workers have joined unions and engaged in workplace strikes and street protests. This includes golf caddies, home study tutors...

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