A Comparative Study of Organizing Co-Ethnic Migrant and Local Women Workers in the Care Market of South Korea: Challenges, Strategies and Successes

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:15
Location: Hörsaal 10 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Yang-Sook KIM, University of Toronto, Canada
This study explores how discursive contestations over the definition of good care and the ideal care worker shape the collective organizing strategies of migrant and native-born workers in paid care work. Drawing on the case of South Korea, this study focuses primarily on the differences between two groups of women workers who are marginalized differently but face common issues from doing low-paid, devalued and precarious work: co-ethnic migrant women from China and native-born Korean women in their 50s and 60s. Since the late 1980s, Korean Chinese women have started crossing the border to work in informal sectors. At the same time, the South Korean state has encouraged all women, especially working-class women, to take jobs as care workers to cope with the care deficit of the nation. Drawing upon preliminary fieldwork conducted with a local domestic workers organization and a Korean Chinese ethnic organization, this study explores how contrasting notions of ethnicity and nationality create different and unequal sources of support for domestic workers to improve their working conditions through collective organizing. In the case of native-born workers, I find that the notion of Korean ethnicity is closely linked to narrowly-defined discourses of cultural and political membership that link workers' rights to South Korean citizenship. In the case of migrant co-ethnic workers, I find that Korean ethnicity is drawn from beliefs about a shared cultural heritage that goes back to the division of the nation, enabling them to identify themselves as Korean, not South Korean. This broadly defined notion of a Korean ethnic identity allows them to organize ethnic-based organization and to develop discourses of rights based on pan-Korean ethnicity, but impedes the development of links to workers' organizations.