Labor Law Reform in Taiwan: At the Intersection of Emancipation and Decommodification Movements

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:06
Oral Presentation
Andi KAO, Cornell, USA
The Kuomintang (KMT) enacted sweeping pro-labor reforms to the legal framework governing labor relations in Taiwan in 2011. The revisions entered into law not only when the pro-business KMT controlled both executive and legislative bodies, but also at a time when other governments across the globe were passing anti-labor legislation and austerity measures to further erode the strength of labor relative to capital in the aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession. Legal scholars predicted the package of revisions would strengthen the Taiwanese labor movement by boosting union membership, facilitating collective bargaining, and protecting workers’ rights to unionize.

Scholars have largely adopted a historical institutionalist framework to explain the passage of the reforms. According to this perspective, both major parties battled to secure key electoral support by implementing progressive revisions to Taiwan’s anachronistic labor laws. Intense electoral competition after the end of martial law in 1987, in particular, created avenues for incorporating working class interests into formal political processes.

A broadly Polanyian framework, however, provides greater analytical clarity to the passage of the 2011 revisions. In this article, I argue that the KMT enacted the series of reforms to deflect worker demands to employers, undermine opposition to negotiations with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and substantiate the party’s claim to be an equal stakeholder in democratization despite persisting anti-democratic institutions and practices associated with the party. Viewed in broader socio-historical perspective, the pro-labor 2011 reforms ironically helped to both facilitate an expanding neoliberal policy regime and subdue emancipatory demands associated with Taiwan’s ‘dual transition’ from authoritarian state corporatism to electoral democratic neoliberalism. With a broad cross-section of social groups suspicious of cross-Strait economic negotiations, implementing reforms to decommodify labor was designed to placate and fragment political opposition while simultaneously defusing emancipatory demands and safeguarding the core tenets of neoliberalism.