Rebuilding Workers’ Power Beyond Corporate Boundaries

Monday, 16 July 2018: 10:50
Oral Presentation
Aelim YUN, Centre for Labour and Welfare Law, Republic of Korea
The eruption of labour movement in the Global South since the 1980s was characterized as ‘social movement unionism’ (Waterman 1988; Webster 1988). However, there are few literatures on what challenges those newly-erupted unionism are facing with, under the pressure of globalisation and neo-liberalism. In South Korea, for example, union membership has declined, and what is worse, the gap of union presence as well as working conditions becomes larger, depending on firm’s size, gender and employment types, for decades.

Against this background, we could reflect on how to rebuild and re-compose forces of labour, relying on Silver’s work (2003). This requires us to tackle with such questions as: How the changing corporate boundaries and the division of labour have transformed the context of union power resources; and How the State has institutionalised the unbalanced power distribution between capital, labour and society.

Despite various institutional barriers to organizing workers, Korean unions also have made a progress in organizing precarious workers, who were regarded as the ‘vulnerable’ subject, and thereby, enhanced power resources since 2000s. This paper illustrates two cases with regard to organizing precarious workers across boundaries of company and individual workplace: subcontracted workers of Samsung Electronics Service and cleaners on the premises of university. In particular, unions’ attempt to enhance associational and societal power will be reviewed and it would give some ideas for balancing power distribution between labour, capital and state.

In conclusion, this paper focuses on how workers’ identity and the scope of solidarity has been built and could be rebuilt. For that, it argues that demands as to reducing competition among workers, providing workers with universal platform for security irrespective of employment status and building a strategic coalition with social movement should become a priority of union strategy.