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Can Unions Grow in Undemocratic Political and Social Environments? The Korean Case from a Comparative Perspective


  • Jooyeon Jeong

    () (Department of Economics, Korea University, Seoul, Republic of Korea)


In the literature in English, the prevailing view on Korean unions during the economic developmental period of the 1970s judged unions¡¯ lack of representative capacities as well as their exceptionally slow growth patterns as constrained chiefly by the state-led macro-political environment. However, this paper finds that enterprise unions as the primary form in Korea not only pursued weak to moderate economic unionism but also recorded a gradual pattern of growth while exhibiting significant diversity across sectors, industries, and firms during that period. That diverse pattern of union growth was repeated and intensified by the explosive growth of vigorous economic enterprise unionism during the political democratization period between 1987 and 1994. In particular, Korean union growth was not always solely, decisively, and negatively influenced by the state, as presumed in the literature. Instead, like their counterparts in several advanced nations, some Korean unions had relatively stable organizations and bargaining power in strategically growing industries, in state-regulated sectors and industries, in large enterprises (LEs), and among advantageous groups of workers enjoying stable wages and employment security in labor markets.

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  • Jooyeon Jeong, 2010. "Can Unions Grow in Undemocratic Political and Social Environments? The Korean Case from a Comparative Perspective," Discussion Paper Series 1012, Institute of Economic Research, Korea University.
  • Handle: RePEc:iek:wpaper:1012

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    enterprise unionism; union growth patterns in Korea; meso- and micro-socioeconomic theory; pluralistic perspectives on union formation; comparative industrial relations;

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