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Democracy Without Workers: The “Work Society” in Korea After Democratization

  • Su-Dol Kang
Chapter
Part of the Critical Studies of the Asia-Pacific book series (CSAP)

Abstract

In this chapter, the author discusses the thesis of “democracy without labor” in relation to democratic quality in South Korea. The chapter deals with the following questions: Why there is no democracy for workers even after democratic transition in 1987? And what would be a possible way to bring about democracy for the working people? First, the chapter traces historical processes in which Korean workers experienced traumatic collective memories. For example, the developmental state in Korea long suppressed and controlled labor, treating it as a threat to security. This labor control did not much change under the democratic governments of Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. Rather, many Korean companies recently adopted a new way of controlling workers, by using civil and criminal law, rather than labor law, in response to labor union strikes. Many private companies are using “compensation suits” and provisional seizures against labor unions. Under these conditions, many workers have committed suicide not only as result of overwhelming despair but also as a final act of resistance. This aggressive labor control was in parallel with the tendency of politics to “commercialize” under a liberal democracy. The author argues that this tendency inflicts considerable damage on the quality of democracy. Therefore, the author suggests that a “democracy with workers” should go far beyond workers’ entitlement to social rights. Because of the long-lasting consequences of historical and societal trauma for workers, democracy should not be a mere set of institutions, but should rather be understood as a way of social life in which workers are not stigmatized and can take part in the economic process while enjoying more autonomy, solidarity, and spirituality.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Su-Dol Kang
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Business AdministrationKorea University, Korea University Sejong CampusChochiwonSouth Korea

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