Strategizing an Environmental Turn for Organized Labor

Monday, 11 July 2016: 11:25
Location: Hörsaal 16 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Hwa-Jen LIU, Department of Sociology, National Taiwan University, Taiwan
In the so-called growth-obsessed societies, such as those in the region of East Asia, how could it be possible to prod equally growth-minded labor movements into an environmental turn?  This article examines historical precedents in this region to suggest a few possible directions.  On the one hand, organized labor is not, and will not be, a monolithic entity but marked by a multitude of diverse interest and stratified positions in job hierarchy.  From Japan’s and Taiwan’s experiences, unions of public-sector workers and of some service workers were more perceptive to the “zero-growth” ideas and often held opposite views against their manufacturing counterparts on nuclear and other environmental issues.  As a consequence union federations were unable to break the stalemate and often refrained from making clear statements on major environmental controversies.  While fighting head on with unions at the manufacturing sector on the “jobs versus livability” conundrum, environmental organizations also collaborated with non-manufacturing unions in an ad-hoc fashion.  On the other hand, influences of traditional trade unions in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan have declined dramatically in recent years that organized labor risked being a marginalized, if not irrelevant, segment in the making of public policies.  Major reorganization of union movements is desperately needed yet finds nowhere to start.  We did find innovative alliance-making between workers, unionists and community activists on precarious work and rights for immigrant workers, yet whether such development impacted the existing union structures was not entirely clear.  The post-Fukushima precarious workers provide a particularly interesting case in which an environmental element was added into the organizing drive and pushed us to ponder: while fixing environmental disasters here and there becomes a profitable industry, will successfully organizing workers in this industry change the power balance of public-sector and manufacturing unions and push union federations toward a pro-environment direction?